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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 13, 2006

Act targeting homeless should be repealed

Housing advocates are still fuming about Act 50, the state law passed in 2004 that criminalized sleeping in public parks.

Even with a repeal last year, its replacement, Act 212, still represents an inhumane approach that targets the poor and needy. Just spend a night with the homeless, when the rain comes, the temperature drops, and paradise doesn't feel like paradise anymore.

Last week, volunteers spent the night with 23 of Hawai'i's homeless at Ala Moana Park.

Police told them the ground rules: They'd all be ticketed if they were caught sleeping or camping.

Under the law, after one ticket or warning, a person can be banned from a park for a year and face a criminal trespass charge.

So these folks many of them working poor with regular jobs but not regular homes kept their eyes open and waited for the police shift change at 4 a.m. Then they caught an hour or two of sleep before going to work.

The spirit of Act 50 remains.

Rev. Bob Nakata of Kahalu'u United Methodist Church, one of the laws many opponents , said inconsistent enforcement is also a problem. "Many of the (police) officers don't like to do it. Why? Because they're human," Nakata said.

Last year, the law's transformation into Act 212 merely limited its scope from all public property to just recreational areas. It meant the area around the State Library was a safe haven, but not parks such as Ala Moana.

This year, two bills want to take all the sting that remains from Act 50. One bill, Senate Bill 2687, eliminates the criminal trespass charge, while SB 2928 reduces the one-year ban for those who violate the law.

That doesn't go far enough. Act 212 should be repealed.

With the housing market tighter than ever and an estimate of the state's homeless in excess of 5,000, the Legislature is considering a whole package of bills to address the growing crisis. Repealing this law that unfairly targets the homeless is a good place to start.