(Source: Hawaii News Now)
HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) – A Moiliili woman is threatening to sue the city over homeless camps that block access to public walkways in her neighborhood.
Jo Ann Ochi has lived near Old Stadium Park more than 50 years.
She says the inability for people to use public sidewalks has gone on too long. And she’s asking the ACLU to defend the rights of the community.
Along Isenberg Street, walkways often resemble an obstacle course.
On Tuesday, pedestrians had it easy ― only having to sidestep rubbish after a recent sweep pushed squatters into a nearby park.
It’s a game of cat and mouse that has some residents at their breaking point.
“I went to the Mayor’s Office. I went to the Governor’s Office. I have talked to Marc Alexander (the city’s homeless czar), the police department,” said Ochi.
“Then I finally got tired because nothing’s been happening.”
Fed up with the status quo, Ochi says she’s now considering turning to the courts for help.
“Mothers pushing babies in their strollers. They’re on the street. That’s so dangerous. One of these days someone’s going to get hit,” she said.
“Right now, I feel like we are being ignored as far as what our rights are.”
It’s a feeling shared by many in the community.
“I think it’s about time someone did something about it,” said Casey Chong, the regional operator of Teddy’s Bigger Burgers. He says area businesses are often targets.
Earlier this month, he was grabbed and threatened by a camper after he confronted him about stealing soda.
“Some of the biggest problems has to do with them coming in and being aggressive,” said Chong. “We are setting up a de-escalation class for some of my managers so they can try and handle these situations.”
Alexander, the head of the Mayor’s Housing Office, said the Moiliili encampments have proven to be a continuing challenge.
He confirms the city’s swept problem spots 39 times so far this year.
Despite weekly visits from outreach workers, Alexander says most Moiliili campers want nothing to do with help.
“I think there are a number of factors. Some people are going to be dealing with substance abuse disorder. Some people have mental health issues,” said Alexander.
“Some people are resistant because they’ve been empowered and enabled community members ― out of goodwill no doubt, bringing them food and other supplies that enable them to stay on the street.”
Ochi, meanwhile, said the homeless on her community’s sidewalks are human and need attention.
“We need to do something for them. But we also need to take care of the people around this neighborhood, too. We can’t sacrifice one for the other,” she said.
So far Ochi hasn’t heard back from the ACLU about whether they’ll take her case.
HNN asked but didn’t get a straight answer.
The non-profit’s executive director, Joshua Wisch, sent the following statement:
“All of Hawaii’s people, including people with disabilities and people living without shelter, have the right to share our sidewalks and public spaces. Rules governing the amount of space to be left clear on public sidewalks exist to protect those in our community facing mobility issues.
The ACLU has always supported the rights of the disabled and the important duty of the government to ensure there is enough space for people with mobility issues to use our public spaces and sidewalks, whether they are being blocked by bulky trash, construction materials, a vehicle, or someone experiencing houselessness. Unfortunately, the government has wasted the bulk of its resources on expensive and constitutionally troublesome sweeps, park closures, and sit/lie bans that not only fail to address the critical lack of affordable and transitional housing in Hawaii but also do not address the accessibility and mobility concerns of those living with disabilities.”