ACLU says Honolulu's "midnight homeless sweeps" unconstitutional, cruel during holidays
Civic groups are calling on the city and county of Honolulu to end so-called "midnight homeless sweeps" during the holidays, calling them cruel and unconstitutional.
When Aunty Lavaina Aina was houseless, she lived in a camp in Waimanalo. She says city and county officials would flash lights into their tents, wake her and other families and force them to move during enforcements. She says it was traumatic for everyone.
"It's about the children here, and making them mentally disturbed too like the adults. And they're doing it at the wrong time. In mid mornings when the children are sleeping, and the parents have to work the next day, they can find better solutions, than just kind of coming in like that," Aina said.
Late night sweeps are ineffective, inhumane and illegal, says the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, which issued a statement supported by more than 30 groups. It points to a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that applies to our state.
"The types of things the city is doing basically criminalize people who don't have a place to live, and then it violates the constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. There was an attempt to get the Supreme Court to overturn that ruling recently and the Supreme Court rejected it just in the last couple weeks," said Joshua Wisch, Executive Director of the ACLU of Hawaii.
On Christmas Eve from midnight to 7am, the city enforced its Stored Property and Sidewalk Nuisance ordinances to break down homeless encampments in town, including Kaimuki, Kapahulu, Ala Wai Park, Old Stadium Park, and the McCully-Moiliili area.
The ACLU says the sweeps have not lowered Oahu's unsheltered population, which grew 12% since last year. Wisch adds it's difficult to find shelter and services for families or people with pets, at night and during the holidays.
The city acknowledged the ACLU's concerns and the Office of Housing Executive Director Marc Alexander issued this statement to KITV-4: “The city's goal is to get individuals into shelter, or better yet, to move back with their relatives. In our opinion, there is no better time to do so then ahead of the holidays, including the eves of both Christmas and New Year’s Day. This is a philosophy the ACLU disagrees with, and this is not likely to change. We respect the work of the ACLU, but we also believe the city’s actions are in the best interest of both the individuals who are living on our streets and other public areas, as well as the broader community. This year on O‘ahu, there have been 4,421 people placed into permanent housing as of Oct. 29. This number is a direct result of the diligent work being done by government, the private sector, and the non-profit community working together.”
City officials also said enforcements are complaint-based and in response to calls from the public.
For advocates who work with the homeless, the sweeps go against what Hawaii is about.
"Standing for aloha is not easy," said James Koshiba, a volunteer with Hui Aloha. "Sometimes it means instead of calling the city to complain or calling the state to complain, that we gotta go out and we gotta make a connection with people and ask the question of what can I do to support your effort to be a responsible and valued member of our community."
A good way to build trust and relationships, community advocates say, is to start a conversation with food or donated items.
"Stop dehumanizing other people, the folks who are living out here, these are people who live in this community," Wisch said.
People are willing to listen, if you're willing to talk to them, Aunty Lavaina says. Especially during the holidays, a little aloha goes a long way.
The following officials, groups, and individuals joined in the ACLU's statement:
• Lieutenant Governor Josh Green• African American Lawyers Association (AALA) of Hawai‘i• Aloha Immigration• American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Hawai‘i• Church and Society, Harris United Methodist Church• Drug Policy Forum of Hawai‘i• Filipinx Advocacy Network (FAN)• Hawai‘i Children’s Action Network• Hawai‘i Friends of Civil Rights• Hawai‘i Health and Harm Reduction Center (HHHRC)• Hawai‘i J20+• Honolulu Hawai‘i NAACP• Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) Honolulu Chapter• Muslim Association of Hawai'i• National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) of Hawai‘i• Pacific Gateway Center, Dr. Tin Myaing Thein, Executive Director• The Popolo Project• SILAH• Temple Emanu-El• UNITE Here! Local 5• Young Progressives Demanding Action (YPDA) of Hawai‘i• Dr. Amy Agbayani, Emeritus Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Diversity, University of Hawai‘i at Manoa• Alani Apio, Hui Aloha Volunteer• Daphne Barbee-Wooten, Attorney-at-Law• Prof. Gaye Chan, Department of Art and Art History, UH Manoa• Rev. T. J. FitzGerald, First Unitarian Church of Honolulu• Cecilia H. Fordham• Clare Hanusz, Attorney-at-Law• Faye Kennedy, former Hawai'i Civil Rights Commissioner and Martin Luther King Jr. Commissioner• Prof. Mari Matsuda, William S. Richardson School of Law• Nathalie Rita, PhD Candidate at UH Manoa • Prof. Nandita Sharma, Department of Sociology, UH Manoa• Prof. Eric Yamamoto, Fred T. Korematsu Professor of Law and Social Justice at the William S. Richardson School of Law