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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bills crack down on park encampments

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

Two new proposals by Mayor Mufi Hannemann could further address the issue of homeless encampments at city parks across O'ahu.

Bill 07-10 would explicitly require a person to obtain a permit to erect a tent in a city park. Bill 08-10 would make it unlawful to be in possession of, or leave behind, a shopping cart at a city park.

Both bills will get their first airing before the City Council today, and both are already drawing the ire of the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai'i.

The bills are not targeted at homeless people, Hannemann said. He said the bills are designed to ensure that parks are "accessible and available to everyone families, seniors, youngsters, all types of activities."

Managing Director Kirk Caldwell said the city consulted constitutional experts to ensure the bills would pass legal muster.

Violators would be subject to penalties of up to $500 and/or 30 days in jail, similar to that of existing park rules and regulations.

The bills appear to be addressing issues that have arisen recently at Kapi'olani Park, which many consider the epicenter of the homeless issue.

An illegal-camping ordinance that took effect in August 2008 bars people from using a public park as a "temporary or permanent dwelling place" between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. daily.

To skirt the issue, many homeless people at Kapi'olani Park have been pitching tents during daylight hours, causing Waikk businesses, residents and visitors to complain.

Rick Egged, executive director of the Waikk Improvement Association, said his organization has been pushing for a tent ban.

"The issue of illegal camping is many-faceted," Egged said. "And I think the approach to it also has to be many-faceted."

Councilman Charles Djou, who represents Waikk, applauded the administration's proposals. Djou said he gets calls about "this problem of vagrants overrunning Kapi'olani Park" every week from visitors.

"It's about time we did something about this," Djou said. "Are (the bills) going to solve the problem? No. But are they going to be helpful? Most definitely."

Daniel Gluck, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Hawai'i, said he will testify against both bills today.

"We are disappointed that the City Council continues to try to eradicate the homeless instead of eradicating homelessness," Gluck said.

Gluck said the no-tent bill would affect all O'ahu residents, as well as tourists, since it would make it illegal for parkgoers to erect a tent for shade. He questioned what would happen to the city's open markets that take place at municipal parks and parking lots since merchants typically house their merchandise under tents.

Gluck said the shopping cart ban would pose a problem for senior citizens, many of whom use the carts to transport their groceries from the supermarket.