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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 4, 2002

Group says Honolulu 'mean' to homeless people

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

Honolulu ranks among the dozen "meanest" cities in the nation for treatment of the poor and homeless, according to the Washington-based National Coalition for the Homeless.

The sidewalk appears to be a good place to take a nap near the District Court Building at the intersection of Hotel and Alakea streets.

Advertiser library photo • June 7, 2001

The organization's January report, which appears on its Web site, lists 57 cities and details their battles with homelessness. In a press release by the organization, issued with the report, Honolulu is listed as one of the 12 meanest cities.

Carol Costa, a city spokeswoman, said the report was unfair and inaccurately depicts the situation in Honolulu.

The cities' battles against homelessness, according to the organization, are fought against the homeless themselves, as growing levels of poverty are increasingly met by attempts to criminalize it.

The coalition did not rank the areas but did report that Atlanta, San Francisco and New York were the "absolute meanest" cities for the homeless. Also listed were Baltimore and Chicago.

"These are stories of anguish, pain and loss," the report says. "Taken in the aggregate, they present to us a picture of a growing tendency in this country to subordinate the human and civil rights of our most vulnerable citizens in the interest of business development and political expediency."

The portion of the report that discusses Honolulu's treatment of the homeless says that Mayor Jeremy Harris "desperately wants to move homeless people out of the city," and accuses him and "some business owners" of a lack of aloha toward the homeless.

The report quotes Kathleen Hasegawa of Honolulu's Affordable Housing Alliance and Laura Theilen of Health Care for the Homeless.

Among the issues discussed was the renovation of 'A'ala Park, which, the report states, Harris turned into, "a 'family park,' complete with tennis courts and a 'no homeless people allowed' policy."

The park was closed for renovations for months. After reopening it early this year, the city stepped up police patrols to keep homeless people and drug dealers out.

Local criticism of the city's treatment of the homeless increased in February, after the national report was released, after city crews removed public benches from Fort Street Mall between Hotel and Beretania streets, an area often used by the homeless.

Costa said the benches are being cleaned and repainted and will be replaced. The city stepped up its efforts to enforce closure of the mall from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. in an effort to prevent the homeless from sleeping there. And it required community groups and organizations that fed people in parks to apply for city permits, then refused to issue them in some areas.

Costa said last night that she thought the implication that the city is insensitive to the plight of the homeless was unwarranted.

"The city needs to make sure its parks are safe, clean and secure for everyone to use, including the homeless," she said. "We need to allow our businesses to flourish downtown. Some business owners have to sterilize their doors every morning because they have urine on their doors."

Costa also said the city takes steps to assist the homeless by providing money to caregivers who help them. The city, she said, has given more than $11 million to care providers for the homeless in the past two years.

"We have a definite commitment to those programs," Costa said. "Especially those who are helping the new homeless — those who are affected by recent economic downturns."