On Wednesday Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell chose the Waikiki Grass Shack Bistro in Kuhio Beach to announce the next phase of his plan to battle homelessness. Just two months ago the open-air trellis where the bistro is located was overrun by homeless, who had made it a perennial hang-out.
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"You couldn't sit at any of the picnic tables here," said the mayor. "They were occupied all the time by homeless people during the day."
The mayor pointed to the new bistro and two before-and-after pictures of Kalakaua Avenue as examples of how the city's stored property and sidewalk nuisance laws are working. The city has been contracting a seven-member team through the Department of Facility Maintenance to enforce the two laws, but starting July 1 a permanent crew will take over at a cost of $3,000 per day. Last year the city removed 148 tons worth of items, including 378 shopping carts.
"So we'll continue to enforce; we'll continue to keep the sidewalks clear and safe and passable for all the pedestrians," said Facility Maintenance director Ross Sasamura.
However, Caldwell now wants to go a step further by introducing two bills specific to the Waikiki Special District. One would make it a petty misdemeanor to defecate or urinate in public, while the other would outlaw lying down on sidewalks no matter the time of day.
"If it works here we'll look to take it to places like Chinatown, and other communities around the island," said the mayor. "No one person has a right to the sidewalk."
Caldwell has dubbed his plan to battle homelessness in Waikiki and other parts of Oahu "compassionate disruption." Police Chief Louis Silva said since the start of the year his officers have issued 788 citations to people in Waikiki who were sleeping in parks of illegally camping. Another 61 citations were handed out to people who were found to be living in vehicles. Silva denied charges his officers were specifically targeting the homeless.
"It's not a crime to be homeless, but when the criminals who happen to be homeless violate the law, that's when law enforcement gets involved," said the police chief.
As far as compassion, the mayor said $47.2 million set aside by the city council could create as many as 440 units to help remove the homeless from city streets.
$32 million in general obligation bonds will be used to acquire and renovate 200 to 250 units for Housing First clients and mixed-income families and individuals in Waikiki, Chinatown and Leeward Oahu. Another $12.2 million from the Affordable Housing Fund is set aside for 80 studio-type Housing First units in Waikiki and elsewhere, and $3 million in general funds will go toward 110 placements of the chronically homeless.
Housing First is a program that finds shelter for homeless persons before they receive treatment for drug addiction or mental illness.
Caldwell said his administration may purchase entire buildings with the $32 million in general obligation bonds, or seek a more scattered approach where the city buys or leases individual units at various locations for the Housing First program. The mayor acknowledged there could be pushback from residents that don't want a drug-addicted homeless person moving in next door, but said he doesn't want to create "ghettos" and being part of a community helps homeless individuals transition back into society.
"Each individual has to be willing to accept someone living in their community, whether it be on a floor of their building or in their neighborhood to get better," said Caldwell. "Otherwise, we don't solve that problem."