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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, April 19, 2010

Full-court press needed on homeless

Today, Honolulu police officers will move through city parks across O'ahu, armed with new laws that are supposed to be more effective at clearing out illegal homeless encampments.

Officers can now issue citations carrying fines up to $500 for shopping carts and unauthorized tents on city property.

Of course, no one expects that the laws alone will do the job. The homeless themselves know this, having had nearly a month's warning since the laws were passed prior to their enforcement. Some are already testing loopholes replacing now-illegal tents with large beach umbrellas, for instance.

No, what's required is nothing new, but it bears repeating: A coordinated, daily push by law enforcement and social workers to remove squatters from these public places and find someplace else for them to lay their heads.

Those who genuinely want to get off the streets, like the working poor who can't afford shelter, should get the help they need. So should the mentally ill and addicted who need treatment, not a ticket.

A hard push against homeless camping may strain the resources of such social service providers as the Next Step shelter and the Institute for Human Services, which admirably provide beds, food and transition services for those who truly need them. The effort could provide a clearer picture of the real needs of the homeless population and the amount of support the public should provide.

But those who simply choose to live outdoors because it's cheaper, easier or more comfortable to take over public facilities than to pay for their own these folks should feel the full force of the new laws. It should cost them enough to make illegal camping not worth the hassle. That's perfectly fair.