The City and County of Honolulu has declared war on the homeless, not on homelessness. Kathy Xian, writing at Civil Beat, correctly identified the city’s enactment of punitive laws as an act of violence against the homeless.
Mayor Caldwell insists that the new laws he supports, one that would prohibit sitting or lying on the sidewalk and another that prohibits public urination or defecation, would be modeled after Seattle’s laws which have been found to be Constitutional by the 9th Circuit (which includes Hawaii).
There is one very big, and very important difference: Seattle started its Housing First program, well, First. In fact, Seattle started its ten-year plan to end homeless, in 2004. Other states or municipalities started their “end homelessness in ten years” a decade or more ago. But not Honolulu.
Housing First is not yet in place here, and the Mayor’s first attempt turned out to be unfunded and fell flat. At this point, there may be a budget, but no housing is in place. Public toilets that anyone (homeless, visitors, residents, anyone) can use are nonexistent or rare in Chinatown and elsewhere in the city. So the new laws, if passed, are premature.
More from Seattle:
The Ten-Year Plan emerged as an idea in 2004, when a broad-based coalition of more than 30 leaders representing United Way of King County, businesses, faith-based communities, housing and human services organizations, homeless people and governments, came together to confront this serious issue. The plan, completed in the spring of 2005, seeks to end homelessness, not just help people live in homelessness. In addition to the more than 18 municipalities who have endorsed the Ten-Year Plan, more than 140 organizations and churches operate housing and service programs aligned with the strategies of the Ten-Year Plan, or have otherwise endorsed the plan.
[seattle.gov, Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness]
Seattle has learned, along the way, that Housing First is cheaper than enforcement. It’s obviously more humane.
Seattle’s “Housing First” program indicated that providing permanent housing for houseless people was 53 percent less expensive than having them live on the street. This marginal cost saving increased over time as program participants became financially stable and independent.
[civilbeat.com, Let’s Overhaul the Way We Deal With Homeless People, 6/9/2014]
Bottom line: Honolulu is doing it (if they actually do it) backwards. What Caldwell describes as “compassionate disruption” is not only more expensive than evidence-based approaches, it is cruel, inhumane, and criminalizes poverty.
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