Is The Hawaii Legislature Criminalizing Homeless People?

800px-thumbnail

Today, Civil Beat’s Chad Blair posted a good run-down on bills pending in the Hawaii Legislature that would criminalize homeless people in various ways. House Bill 33 would ban public urination and defecation, HB 2409 would prohibit people from lying down at a bus stop and HB 1660 would prohibit people from “obstructing” a public sidewalk.

“I’ve been reporting on Hawaii’s homeless problem for over a decade–at Honolulu Weekly, Hawaii Public Radio, Pacific Business News and Civil Beat–and it seems like things are worse than ever,” Blair wrote. “This, despite concerted, coordinated efforts from the City and County, the state, social services agencies and churches, and the help of the federal government.”

While we can all agree that it’s not in anyone’s interest to allow urine and feces to fester in public streets, simply sending cops into cite, fine or even arrest people to stop it won’t solve the underlying problem. As the Washington, DC-based National Coalition for the Homeless has pointed out, laws like those currently moving through the Legislature really only violate homeless people’s 1st, 4th, 8th and 14th Amendment protections, “adds to [homeless peoples’] already difficult situation of finding employment, getting housing, or being eligible for certain services” by giving them criminal records and generally just adds to an already absurdly over-burdened criminal justice system.

“There is a clear moral issue with punishing someone for carrying out life-sustaining activities in public when there are no alternatives,” states the NCH website (nationalhomeless.org). “People who are already suffering are being punished further for suffering.”

2013 Photo of U.S. soldiers assisting homeless people in Honolulu: Sgt. Tiffany Fudge/DOD/Wikimedia Commons