Justice Department takes stand on homelessness

(Via Hawaii News Now)

Mayor Kirk Caldwell believes Oahu’s ordinance that bans sitting or lying down on sidewalks in areas of commerce would pass a legal challenge.

“We looked at the Seattle jurisdiction and we followed their model because it was actually challenged, and the challenge was not successful,” he said.

The U.S. Justice Department said a law in Boise, Idaho, that makes it a crime for homeless people to sleep in public when there is insufficient shelter space constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

Attorney Gavin Thornton from the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice sees a relationship to sit-lie.

“In the Department of Justice’s opinion it’s related to whether people have alternatives. And I think here a lot of people don’t right now. The further you expand it the further you exacerbate that problem,” he said.

Some on the Honolulu City Council, including councilman Joey Manahan, want to expand sit-lie to pedestrian malls and the banks along the Kapalama Canal.

“The City Council has looked at sit-lie as a tool to be able to manage these homeless encampments where they are popping up,” he said.

Caldwell said expanding to those areas could open the city to costly legal challenges and jeopardize sit-lie altogether.

“If it looks like the City and County is doing this just to target homeless, then everything could be set aside,” he said. “We’d have no tools to make sure our sidewalks and our streets and public parks are kept open for everyone.”

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