New laws fine but more pressure needed
The Honolulu City Council took a commendable step by passing bills that will ban shopping carts in city parks and require tent permits, but it's naive to think these actions alone will clean up the city.
Determined campers, especially those taking up the best beachfront spots in Waikīkī, have proven to be an adaptable and resourceful lot and they'll probably be among the first to obtain their permits and trade in their carts for Radio Flyers so they can return to their ragtag encampments.
And while the tents are most obvious around Kapi'olani Park and Ala Moana Beach Park, scores of other campers are living in public restrooms at parks and ballfields, their belongings stuffed into carts, stacked bins and rollable luggage piled high and covered with tarps.
The new ordinances, if approved by Mayor Mufi Hannemann, will give the police more tools in the effort to keep campers from setting up permanent residence.
But they will not address the clusters of homeless now firmly established in parks in neighborhoods such as Mō'ili'ili, McCully and Kaka'ako.
We've asked these questions before and we'll ask them again:
Isn't it illegal to use public property for private storage?
Isn't it illegal to sleep or loiter in a park restroom or pavilion?
Isn't it illegal to wheel around a shopping cart that's been stolen from a store?
Hannemann has 10 days to act on the shopping cart and tent-permit bills and his spokesman says the mayor is taking the time to work out the details of enforcement.
We hope the mayor is also working out the details of a new approach to homelessness that puts pressure on the stubborn and highly visible campers who have taken advantage of the city's confusion and timidity. These people aren't interested in shelters or transitional housing, they simply want to live outside.
And for too long, by refusing to confront them, police and city officials have given them that option.
The impact on Waikīkī tourism has obviously put more pressure on city officials to get tough. But most of the complaints about panhandlers, campers and bus-stop sleepers are coming from taxpaying Honolulu residents, who deserve to see some action beyond very occasional enforcement efforts.
It's time to take back Honolulu. There are lots of empty shelter beds, plenty of social outreach programs and stacks of laws on the books right now that would clean up the parks and sidewalks if they were enforced.
In an election year with lots of familiar names in the race for higher office, voters should demand actions with clear results, not just more empty talk.