Honolulu to restrict tents in parks to keep out homeless campers
By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer
In another attempt to open up public areas for everyone and address what appears to be a growing homelessness problem, the Honolulu City Council yesterday approved two bills restricting tents and banning shopping carts in city parks.
The measures were OK'd against the objections of several advocates for the homeless, who say the measures don't provide any solutions.
The mayor has 10 days to sign the two bills, which he proposed, but it's unlikely they'll be enforced right away.
Yesterday, city administration officials gave council members assurances that social service providers will be given time — probably two to three weeks or more — to educate the homeless on the laws before police start issuing fines, moving people out of city parks for violating the rules or confiscating shopping carts.
City spokesman Bill Brennan said the mayor will use the time he has before the bills are signed to determine how to proceed on enforcement and work with providers to get the word out to the homeless.
The bills are arguably the toughest the council has passed in a years-long push to tackle illegal camping and address the members of the homeless population who migrate to city parks.
The situation has grown particularly acute in Waikīkī, where people in the state's No. 1 tourist destination say the population of homeless — especially the chronic homeless — is growing and increasingly scaring visitors or dominating parks.
"As long as our visitors are being intimidated by our homeless, we are not going to be able to continue our mission" of being an economic engine for the Islands, said Bob Finley, Waikīkī Neighborhood Board chairman. "I see this as the administration and the council taking a first step to address the problem."
Several advocates for the homeless say the bills will only make the situation worse by forcing the homeless to move from place to place or to more sparsely populated areas, making it harder to get them help.
"What they're doing is pandering to the tourist industry and trying to hide homelessness," homeless advocate Eileen Joyce said after the vote yesterday. "It's not that we think tents are great on the beach, but we say don't hide it. Solve the problem. People don't have another place to go."
The bills passed yesterday in a 7-2 vote, with council members Nestor Garcia and Romy Cachola opposing. Bill 7-10 requires park users to obtain permits before erecting tents. Bill 8-10 bans shopping carts.
Honolulu, like many other municipalities across the country, has been working for years to tackle illegal camping in city parks and has run into a host of hurdles. In addition to passing an illegal camping ordinance, the city has also tried to tackle the issue by closing city parks at night and scheduling maintenance that temporarily closes parks.
But the problem persists, especially in Waikīkī, residents and others say.
The homeless in Kapi'olani Park, for example, were able to skirt the revised "illegal camping" ordinance — which went into effect in August 2008 to replace one struck down by the Hawai'i Supreme Court because it was too vague — by sleeping during the day and sitting up in the park at night or relying on friends to wake them up when police patrolled. The new ordinance tailored the definition of illegal camping to ban using a public park as a "temporary or permanent dwelling place" at night.
The city then closed Kapi'olani at night, but residents say that still didn't work.
"With city parks, the right thing to do is make sure they're open and available to all families," said City Councilman Charles Djou, whose district includes Waikīkī. "Bills 7 and 8 are not going to fix all our problems with squatting in our public parks. But these two measure are important to make sure our public parks stay public."
Bill 7 defines a tent as a "collapsible structure consisting of sheets of canvas, fabric, or other material" with more than one wall. The bill bans anyone from constructing, using, placing or leaving a tent in a city park without a permit.
Meanwhile, Bill 8 says the definition of a shopping cart has to include that it was "provided by a retail establishment, such as a supermarket."
Violators could face fines up to $500. Police can also move people out of parks or confiscate carts.
University of Hawai'i constitutional law professor Jon Van Dyke has said he worked with the city parks department and law enforcement for months to craft the language in both bills in a bid to avoid court challenges.
He said the tent bill is aimed at allowing "people to enjoy the park on a temporary basis ... but to discourage any more long-term use." The shopping cart bill is tailored so that small carts available for retail sale and used by many to transport groceries wouldn't be banned.