In April, the city's sidewalk nuisance law was passed unanimously by the City Council with the promise of getting homeless campers into shelters. However, a month and a half after enforcement of Bill 7 began July 1, there's little progress at some of the more prominent hotspots for those down on their luck.
A check Friday of Aala Park, Pawa'a In-Ha Park, Kakaako Waterfront Park and Thomas Square showed campers still using sidewalks with little fear city crews would pay a visit anytime soon to clear away belongings.
"It was a very well-intentioned bill (and) well thought out, but it's simply not working," said downtown Honolulu resident Karen Edwards, who wrote to the City Council in support of Bill 7 in March.
Edwards has watched as homeless campers along Aaala Park move back onto sidewalks after being swept out by city workers with the Department of Facility Maintenance. She says the infrequency of sweeps renders the new law moot, while expending valuable city resources.
“The homeless are simply moving right back in. And so, it's simply wasting our time and effort and money," Edwards told KITV4.
Edwards is not alone in her assessment of Bill 7. Roland Louie, a member of the Kalihi-Palama Neighborhood board, believes the law is a complete failure.
“As soon as they will clean it, half of them will go right back inside," Louie said of homeless campers. “During small kid time, Aala Park was for families flying kites and playing baseball, now people are afraid to go inside there.”
Under Bill 7, the city can immediately confiscate personal belongings from sidewalks after posting a removal notice near the spot where items are located. Those who have their property taken away have 30 days to reclaim it, but must pay a $200 fee if a waiver is denied. At Pawa’a In-Ha Park, several removal notices attached to lamp posts on Friday showed a date of Aug. 6.
Councilman Ikaika Anderson, who sponsored Bill 7 with colleagues Ann Kobayashi and Ernie Martin, said dwindling city funds may be dictating how frequent city sidewalks can be cleared.
“While we would like to see more frequent enforcement, the reality of the situation is we have a huge need, and limited resources to meet that need,” said Anderson. "I wouldn't say that we're wasting taxpayer dollars. If the best we could do is every eight days, that's the best we could do at this particular point.”
Louie says the homeless situation in greater Honolulu could also be having an impact on tourism, by far Hawaii's No. 1 industry. He says Chinese visitors have questioned him about the cluttered sidewalks in and around Chinatown.
“They say, ‘Oh, don’t go to Hawaii, too many homeless and it smells,” said Louie.
Edwards meanwhile is also concerned about sanitation issues and her own health after slowly recovering from chemo therapy that she began last September. The therapy lowers a person’s immune system, making them more susceptible to infection or disease.
“It’s sort of scary sometimes, but I want to walk,” she says. “I’ve stepped on human excrement I think. I mean these people don’t have facilities, (and) it’s a really, really sad situation for all of us.”
KITV4 attempted to reach city officials to discuss Bill 7 enforcement, but Friday was Admission Day, a state holiday, and phone calls were not returned.
Anderson said he hopes to sit down with administration officials to see if anything can be done to make Bill 7 enforcement more successful.
“I'm hopeful that the council and the administration can huddle and talk story and see what we can come up with," said Anderson. “Maybe we need to look at additional consequences to force people into shelters, if that's what we need to do."
A check Friday with the Institute of Human Services in Iwilei showed 50 shelter spots open for single men, 12 spots for single women and enough space for three families.