Homelessness is a national problem and a horrific issue. The competing interests of being my brother’s keeper and taking care of my family create hard choices. Anyone with a heart who enters Kaka’ako sees homeless families with smiling, playing children. How horrible must the alternative be where a family says “this is the best living situation for us”.
And while world class cities want to bask in sports championships, or international festivals, this comes with world class responsibilities: how do we balance the enjoyment of our citizens with the presence of homelessness. Or better put: how do we make our city a better place by finding better alternatives than having families camp in the streets.
It’s a hard question. I’ve given my solution to homelessness multiple times in other contexts. The purpose of this post is something else. Enough people have asked me about the set of City bills currently pending that functionally make being homeless arrestable that I might as comment partially here:
I’ve discussed many times the importance of honesty in presentation. That, when you create an argument, there has to be congruence with the truth. We all understand “spin”. We live in a world where our news is given to us by a party cheerleaders on major networks. But the factual fundamentals remain important. Something will stick in our craw when the basis of the argument is fundamentally flawed.
Honolulu City Council’s Bill 44 includes for its foundation “Sitting or lying down on the sidewalk is not the intended or customary use of public sidewalks.”
From step one, we know they’re building a castle of dreams on a foundation of sand.
“Intended use”, obviously, is what was intended when these roads, or arguably the whole system of roads here in the state of Hawaii, were created. “Customary use” is what they have come to be used for, as an accepted use, over time.
Homeless advocates often argue Kanawai Malamahoe, or The Law of the Splintered Paddle. This is enshrined into the Hawaii state constitution as a guiding principle, if not as binding law. That’s fine, I get it’s not binding law.
In 1797 Kamehameha said, “May everyone, from the old men and women to the children be free to go forth and lay in the road.” (i.e. by the roadside or pathway).
Maybe it is not what the Honolulu City Council wants the roads to be used for, maybe it is not what tourists want the roads to be used for. But I would suggest over two-hundred years and counting as “customary”. I’m going to go with the first major ruler over the islands, and the guy with the statue in front of the Hawaii Supreme Court building being able to, in his own words, dictate what use the roads were “intended” for.
Look, the solution to homelessness is going to take a multi-part, many phased program. It will need dedicated social workers, Housing First availability, medical personnel with mental illness and substance abuse backgrounds, dedicated ambulances, and interpreters of many languages. Or we can just incarcerate everyone. But whoever acts as the Homeless Czar in Honolulu, we need to make sure they understand the solution is a program—
— not a pogrom.