Vagrant rights trump safe sidewalk passage

It’s unbelievable that we don’t have laws on the books to allow police to move out vagrants who obstruct city sidewalks by setting up makeshift encampments, but apparently we don’t and the City Council is trying to remedy that.

A bill that passed the Public Infrastructure Committee and will go before the full council later this month would create an 8-foot-wide sidewalk use zone for pedestrians from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. — later in Waikiki.

It seems a reasonable measure modeled after a Portland law that has passed legal muster, but naturally it’s opposed by the local ACLU in its unending battle to enable squatters who claim the right to game the system and pitch their tents wherever they please on public property.

It’s a no-brainer that public sidewalks should be kept clear for their intended purpose of allowing citizens to move safely from one place to another, and it’s maddening that we even need to have this discussion.

The city has taken the dubious position that it’s powerless to act under existing law as long as the sidewalk isn’t completely blocked and pedestrians can squeeze by.

That’s troublesome for everybody, but especially hazardous for those of us who are disabled and use wheelchairs, walkers and motorized scooters; we pretty much need the whole sidewalk to pass safely, as well as a little elbow room on the sides.

ACLU lawyers who are so protective of the rights of vagrants to obstruct public property should try taking a wheelchair into traffic on Kapiolani Boulevard because the sidewalk is impassable.

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14 Comments on “Vagrant rights trump safe sidewalk passage”

  1. Michael Says:

    I would consider vagrants, vandals. They set a beautiful scenery and paint dirt all over it.
    I would also consider it as disturbing the peace. A vagrant snoring makes loud noises. I would consider a vagrant laying on the sidewalk an obstruction of traffic. Foot and wheelchair traffic.
    One has to use their imagination and create an off the wall solution to a problem, no one follows laws.

    If there is a Will, there is a Way.

  2. zzzzzing Says:

    They should present the law like this: yes, ‘homeless’ are ‘public,’ but setting up private property (their tents, possessions, tarps, etc.) on public property, by attaching it to private property or not, is not allowed without permit, and permits are only good from the hours of _am to _pm, daily – same time that they have open markets on Ft. Street Mall, or _pm to _pm, same hours as block parties. They have to go through the permit process like everyone else, filling out a proper form with proof of whatever is required (insurance, etc.) There is no guarantee that permits would be approved, just like everyone else’s; permits are not automatically issued – they are judged on a case by case basis.

    By the way, private businesses in Kailua block access, too, by perpetual ‘sidewalk sales’ – restricting the sidewalk to a mere 30″ in some spots next to the h/c ramp. (SoKailua (or whatever it’s called now) & Red Bamboo come immediately to mind). Kaneohe Ranch’s response: “We nokea.”

  3. zzzzzz Says:

    Blocking sidewalks also presents difficulties for folks with kids in strollers, and pedestrians walking home from shopping with their personal shopping carts.

    Aren’t the vagrants who block the sidewalks violating the ADA? Can one of the lawyers who sues businesses for ADA violations take legal action against the vagrants?

  4. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    Okay, folks, where do you want these people to live? Even if every single one of them could and wanted to live in a temporary shelter or transitional housing, there are not enough places who can shelter the homeless.

    As someone who works on homeless policy issues as part of my day job, I can tell you that there are not enough beds by a factor of five for every homeless human being on the island of O`ahu. That includes every type of service provider.

    Until we address the core problem of affordable permanent housing, the homeless will be part of our lives.

    Where would you put them, David? Even if we sent every homeless person back to Micronesia or the Continental United States or Mesico or the Philippines, we would still have three times as many homeless than we have beds in shelters & transitional housing.

    FACTOID: To get into Section 8 housing requires an applicant to wait as long as six years.

    I understand your frustration after having spent about a year all totaled using a wheelchair, walker, crutches, and cane after two different car accidents 19 years apart; however, what would you suggest other than criminalizing their behavior?

    It would take several years to build jails to house these people – so where will they stay in the meantime?

  5. David Shapiro Says:

    Cap, no, you don’t come close to understanding my frustration until you’ve had your wheelchair tip over because of an obstructed sidewalk and had to endure the public humiliation of having the rescue squad and paramedics come peel you off the pavement. I’ve supported the safe zones bill as a place for homeless to go, but I don’t feel I should have to solve the problems of homelessness and addiction to get the tents the hell off the sidewalks. I can’t put stuff for bulky item pickup out on the curb a half a day early without getting fined. Why should others be able to pitch tents and store personal belongings on the sidewalk with impunity?

  6. WooWoo Says:

    Cap-

    My understanding is that there are beds available in the shelters, but that many of the chronic homeless that we see blocking the sidewalk do not want to be there, usually because of mental health issues.

    No doubt affordable housing plays a factor in the big picture of the homeless, but that’s more about the working homeless who are living in cars or on the beach. The people blocking the sidewalk are not there because they make $7 hr and can’t afford rent.

  7. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    WooWoo:

    There are almost five times as many homeless as there are beds in all kinds of shelters and transitional housing units here on O`ahu. The type of person who rejects shelter with rules accounts for about 15% of today’s homeless. That leaves 85% of the people – of which children and women account for a majority of that figure – without safe & clean & affordable shelter.

    David:

    The Safe Zone legislation is fraught with all kinds of problems – both current and probable – in particular having it turn into a human garbage heap.

    I assume that you are going to testify in support of the sidewalk bill when it comes up for Third Reading – or at least submit written testimony – or call our Councilmember asking him to vote YES.

    Everyone:

    The complexity of visible & invisible homelessness requires more than simplistic answers like banning people from parks and other public spaces.

    Unless we are willing to commit significant financial resources – tax dollars – the situation will not get any better.

    I have a personal stake in this: Assuming that I outlive my SigOth, I fully expect to spend the balance of my days living under a bridge somewhere if not in my car UNLESS we start working on providing permanent affordable rental housing as well as an expanded variety of human services to people who do not have the financial resources to be purchases these services at market rates.

    Of course, the other option to consider would be a mandatory death penalty for anyone over the age of 40 or with an income less than $50,000 a year or who, regardless of age, needs any kind of social/medical/work training/transportation support or subsidies.


  8. Maybe groups like the Coalition For Barrier Free Living and others can mount as successful a campaign as they did in the 70’s. Prior to the 1972 Rehab act, there was no human rights language in the law. Today, we have the ADA. We have access infrastructure from the streets to the bathrooms. it wasn’t that long ago that nobody had ever seen a curb cut or a reserved parking space. That revolution must be one of the most comprehensive and pervasive retrofits in American public life. Yeah, it’s not perfect. As my high tech racing wheelchair basketball playing friend Larry said, on being asked about stairs as obstacles: “I don’t worry about stairs. It’s the ramps that’ll kill you.”

  9. Richard Gozinya Says:

    Cap makes good points about insufficient alternatives for the homeless but those do not justify blocking the sidewalks to unrestrained public access. No need conflate these two points. Plenty places other than the sidewalk to set up the illegal camp.

  10. zzzzzing Says:

    Cap, here’s hoping you won’t be homeless in the near future but I noticed even you’d live under a bridge or in car, rather than a sidewalk, so at least you won’t be part of the problem. 🙂

    There are several types of homeless – they all can’t be lumped into one group. You have the mentals (perhaps a non-pc term, but I’m certainly not meaning any disrespect), the substance-abusers, the ‘ainokea’ and the truly ‘fallen on hard times & need help to get up’ kine.

    The latter usually will be the first to get off the streets, or the ones who should be sought among the homeless – they’re the ones that will accept help & having an advocate does them a world of good. They’re the kupuna, the disabled, the recently-jobless or low-paying jobbed, sometimes with families, sometimes not. The shelters need to be cleaned up & segregated for these people, so you don’t have substance abusers & mentals mixing with them.

    The mentals need to be dealt with separately, perhaps by temporary (or permanent, as needed) institutionalization. The substance-abusers & ‘ainokea’ ones – sometimes those lines are pretty blurred – need to be ‘tough loved’ & told to move on or else, until they start caring – or find another bleeding-heart town to put up with their attitude.

    Before you jump all over me & tell me how (whatever) I am, I was successfully homeless for 4 years on the mainland before kicking some bad habits & taking responsibility for myself, so feel I’m pretty qualified to judge the issues @ hand, having ‘been there, done that.’

  11. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    SigOth and I were homeless for six months in 1998 and lived in three different locations after our former landlord legally raised our monthly rent from $1100 to $4500 and then kept our deposit because he convinced the District Court judge that we’d not gotten written permission to paint the walls. That deposit would have allowed us to move into another rental.

    NOTE: He later reduced the rent to $1200 after no one was willing to pay $4500 amonth.

    It took us five-plus months to save up enough money for another deposit. During that time, we stayed in two beach parks and then in a cottage with a toilet & shower outside the falling-down walls for which we paid $800 a month not including utilities. Two months after we moved into the house we’re still renting today, the owner tore down the cottage and rebuilt a four-unit rental.

    There are a wide variety of shelters and transitional housing facilities available for different types of homeless folks, but not enough by a long shot.

    We continue to volunteer for three different homeless programs and, in fact, will be cooking dinner on Saturday, November 6, for one of them. Our other homeless programs are literacy volunteers – currently we work with three adults teaching basic reading and math skills – and an urban garden project located by IHS.

  12. zzzzzz Says:

    Very well said, RG.

    As I tell my kids, three rights make a left, but two wrongs don’t make a right.

  13. WooWoo Says:

    I don’t want to get too personal, Cap, but isn’t your apparent precarious financial position a conscious choice? You have mentioned in previous posts your own and SigOth’s extensive education and qualifications. So…

    1) you have made the choice to expended resources (time and money) to obtain these educational and professional qualifications; and

    2) you apparently choose not to pursue work that compensates you at a commensurate level. I believe you mentioned that your SigOth is/was a CPA. No such thing as a homeless CPA. The money and work are consistent.

    There is nothing wrong with 1) and 2) above. But if you expect

    3) other taxpayers should subsidize your housing,

    Then we have a disagreement.

    I ask not to accuse or to attack, but to understand your thought process on this matter.

  14. Michael Says:

    I feel if our Government Leaders want to lead us then they should. If they fail and lead some into jobless and become Homeless, then it should be their job as Leaders to find homes and jobs for those without. Leaders are to lead and not miss lead. Leaders are voted to help the Government which is the People. If not, they should not be in Office and voted out or impeached. People want the title then they should do the job. Above and beyond what is normal.

    Unlike the saying God only helps those who help themselves, God regardless helps those in need without question. Leaders are not Gods.
    They just think they are.

    The meaning of Sidewalk is a walk way clear of any or all obstruction including “speed bumps” lying across ones access. Bike path is for bicycle riders, not the sidewalk, unless rider walks his bike. Wheel Chair access and Handicap parking are for those who need access to and from. If one cannot read, that is not being handicapped. Shame that rules are made and it seems they are made to be broken not observed.


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