City’s spinelessness on bus shelter stinks

I can’t stop shaking my head over an excellent story by KITV’s Keoki Kerr about the city’s decision to temporarily move a bus stop on Kapiolani Boulevard across from Nordstrom to avoid dealing with a foul-smelling homeless woman who has been living at the shelter for a year.

You really should see the whole piece, but the gist is that the elderly woman and her belongings smell so bad that those waiting at the stop and catching the waft on the buses can no longer bear it.

Instead of finding a way to remove the woman, the city closed the stop and opened a temporary one down the street, leaving those waiting for buses to stand in the elements while a single person enjoys the comfort of the shelter.

City Transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka told KITV that homeless people have the same rights to use the streets and sidewalks as anybody else, and it’s not illegal to squat at bus shelters. He said the city is showing compassion.

How is it possibly legal for one person to monopolize a public facility for other than its intended purpose while denying its use to the taxpaying public for its intended purpose? How is defacing city property with filth and odor any better than defacing it with graffiti?

These shelters cost millions of dollars to construct and are funded from the property taxes of folks who pay thousands of dollars a month for their own housing. And they can’t use the public structures they’ve built?

People have no right to squat wherever they please when it intrudes on the rights of others to make reasonable use of public property, and the city’s weak-kneed response is an open invitation to the homeless to take over every bus shelter in town.

Finally, how is it possibly compassionate to leave this poor woman sitting in her own horrible stink from God-knows-what bacteria instead of getting her cleaned up, properly fed and provided with the other help she obviously needs?

Going to such extremes to look the other way is an abrogation of our most basic responsibilities to our fellow human beings.

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15 Comments on “City’s spinelessness on bus shelter stinks”

  1. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    There is no way to force this woman to receive help without going to court and getting a judge to agree that the homeless person is either a harm to herself or to the public. Wasting tax dollars is not a crime, David.

    There are two choices here that legislators will have to make. The first is to criminalize homelessness directly so that the police and the prosecutors can imprison the homeless so that they are out of sight but being fed & sheltered.

    If we were to build a Poor People’s Prison, then it would probably cost us several tens of millions of dollars in Public Safety allocations to care for these prisoners.

    The other option is request that the courts revisit decisions made in the 20 years following WWII to stop placing mentally ill people in locked facilities who have not committed any crimes except not taking their meds.

    About the time you had graduated from high school, more than one million people had been released from mental hospitals without much in the way of support..

    Those of us who have decided to spend even a small portion of our lives trying to help others to survive in a world that looks upon the homeless as trash are sensitive to your position. However, the laws as they currently exist do not allow us to imprison the poor and force the mentally ill to behave nicely.

    On a somewhat related note: The group I work withknows that there are at least a dozen homeless/at risk people up and down the Windward Coast and along the North Shore who live & sleep in wheelchairs. Surely you can empathize with them just an eensy-teensy bit.

  2. I appreciate your frustration, but isn’t it a little unfair to lay this all on Wayne? Where is the Legislature, the City Council….the Governor’s highly touted homeless “round-up?” I agree with Cap on most points. A lot of this started years ago when the ACLU defeated the concept of involuntary commitment for obviously (I was going to say mentally ill, but I believe Abercrombie has changed that term to “reality challenged”).

  3. el guapo Says:

    Doc, of your two options, do you feel one or the other, or both, or neither, is the right thing to do?

  4. Robert C Says:

    If we all pissed around that bus stop, we would be arrested and fined. What’s the difference? Maybe we can get action if we all used that stop as a bathroom, since it’s apparently ok for the woman. If the cops harassed us but not the homeless woman, that would be discrimination.

  5. RichardGozinya Says:

    Clearly a Feral Citizen has been found! Somebody needs to dispatch a priest to Nordstroms asap!

    Hurry! APEC’s coming! APEC’s coming!

    There’s not many days remaining in the Gov’s 90 day clean up plan!

  6. David Shapiro Says:

    Didn’t intend to personalize it to Yoshioka. He was just the city guy quoted.

    I have no desire to criminalize homelessness, just to enforce reasonable laws against obstructing and defacing public property. Perhaps we should amend Hannemann’s old public works formula — “can we afford it, can we maintain it” — to include “can we use it for its intended purpose?” Why waste money building parks, sidewalks and bus shelters and pay entire city departments to manage them if a few people can so easily monopolize them and obstruct their intended use?

    Even in the Wild West, Marshal Dillon would occasionally run in the town drunk Otis and let him sleep it off, get him cleaned up and feed him a decent meal. And the people of Dodge City could walk the streets without tripping over him. I fail to see how that isn’t more compassionate than letting that woman sit there reeking for a year.

  7. Larry Says:

    David, this isn’t TV. Even reeking is in the eye of the beholder.

    I think, without having researched it, that if Yoshioka told you it’s legal, it’s legal. End of story on that. We may not like the way a person smells. It’s not defacing anything to smell. What’s next? We don’t like the way they look, walk, talk? We find their hair color offensive? I admit that a smell is more intrusive, but it is still subjective. Thank goodness we don’t have laws against smelling bad. I can see the battle of expert witnesses in court.

    We need a comprehensive, compassionate approach to homelessness. That would not clear everyone off the street, of course, but you can’t pre-judge. The bus stop solution may be far from ideal, but it is at least compassionate, or compassionate in intent. There, I’ve used the word three times in one paragraph. It’s a good word to start with.

  8. Paul Says:

    The Hawaii Adult Protective Services law may help in this case. I would think that living in ones own filth can and will eventually cause serious harm to ones self. The State needs to step in and have doctor make a determination on that.

    Click to access Highlights%20of%20New%20APS%20Law%20–%20Act%20154.pdf

  9. Dave, I’m sure you’ve come to realize that Hawaii State Law is incompatible with common sense.

  10. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    I certainly do not want to establish a Pauper’s Prison, but I might be open to considering mental health facilities for homeless folks which would provide support & help in a variety of ways.

    Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen because it will cost too much.

    How many of you have walked along Hotel Street between Alakea and Richards Street in front of the District Court? The woman who stays there with her belongings reads & does word puzzles, is well-groomed and does not physically disturb anyone with babble; however, should she be institutionalized?

    For those of you who have spent any time in Kane`ohe or Kailua, how would you deal with Mango Man or The Woman in White?

    Should they be institutionalized?

  11. David Shapiro Says:

    Larry, even Einstein recognized a limit to relativity. And no wonder you’re not bothered by reeking when you’re observing it with a beholding eye instead of your schnoz. Sorry, couldn’t resist …

  12. Larry Says:

    There are not, in this country, laws against reeking. Nor against walking down the street singing at the top of your voice (which happens in New York City), nor can a person be institutionalized for mental health or other reasons just because the sight or sound of them bothers some people. When I lived in NYC, there were some people who did indeed think that anyone speaking to themselves or singing should be carted away (either to jail or to treatment).

    That person who smells has a disability. But they have equal rights. The hoarder living amid that huge collection of stuff on Hotel Street also appears to have a disability (and also a great skill of some kind, though I don’t know what to call it, but she is surviving).

    In Hawaii, people choosing to live without a roof over their heads may have special constitutional protection depending on a literal interpretation of Section 10: “The law of the splintered paddle, mamala-hoe kanawai, decreed by Kamehameha I–Let every elderly person, woman and child lie by the roadside in safety–shall be a unique and living symbol of the State’s concern for public safety. The State shall have the power to provide for the safety of the people from crimes against persons and property.”

    Sniff deeply, David, and see if you can find the humanity in someone else’s tragedy.

  13. Larry Says:

    Let me kick this up a notch. Neither the city nor the state wants to provide services that might assist ms. smelly or others. It has been a battle to prevent the DOH from closing the Clubhouses, which is where much of the outreach and services can begin. Particularly on the Neighbor Islands, where Oahuans wouldn’t notice, the DOH is attempting to slash services and almost closed the last facilities providing anything to anyone. The state’s actions have resulted in documented deaths.

    Anecdotally, they have been verbally turning away people coming for help even on Oahu. This is insidious because it leaves no paper trail.

    Non-profits that struggle to assist homeless persons have had their budgets cut. Etc., etc. The gov’s 90-day APEC plan has not provided resources to the DOH to expand MH services.

    And last but not least, the Abercrombie administration has chosen to continue Lingle’s appeal of Korab v. Koller, which, if they win, will cut off lifesaving medical care of all sorts to I think 6,000 people, including, but not only, the COFA residents. Remember the protests when Lingle cut off dialysis and chemotherapy? It was and is a problem for more than just COFA residents.

    Bottom line, i don’t know about ms. smelly, but our government is quite willing to leave people on the streets till they die.

    I am aware of two medical (not mental health) situations right now where two men are being allowed to die without treatment.

    As to mental health issues, sworn testimony before the legislature indicated that 2009 over 2008, deaths increased 36%.

    We can help or we can complain about the people we don’t help.

  14. zzzzzz Says:

    Where’s Rod Tam to introduce a law against being stink?

  15. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    Waiting to be sentenced to prison.

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