Thursday, August 28, 2014

My testimony before the zoning committee of the Honolulu City Council

I stand in opposition to Bills 42, 43, 45, 46 & 48 [those that would criminalize homelessness]

On Oahu, you have the right to be rude to the homeless (we saw that in action at the Civil Beat forum), but you will not have the right to refuse shelter from the persons being rude to you.

On Oahu—as elsewhere—you have the right to be rude (it's called free speech), but if you're homeless, you do not have the right to “bad behavior.” As the head of IHS, Connie Mitchell, said to the Star-Advertiser: “We just think that supporting the bill sets the standard for public behavior. It isn't laws that criminalize people, it's people's behavior that criminalizes them.” As a friend of mine says: “It's not guns that kill people, it's the organ damage and blood loss from gunshot wounds that kill people. If we just outlaw those, we'll be fine.”

On Oahu, you do have the right to sit on the sidewalk in line to buy concert tickets, new iPhones, million dollar condos, or other luxuries, but not if you have nowhere to go after.

On Oahu, you have the right to shit, but only in a toilet; given the lack of public facilities, you pretty much need an apartment or a house.

On Oahu, you have the right to get on a wait list for housing, but not to wait in a place where you won't be “swept away” by the police.

On Oahu, you have the right to buy a gun from a large, exquisite display at Sports Authority, but you will not have the right, under redrafted Bill 45 to a full night's sleep. Instead, you get 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.: free from the sit/lie ban, or just 7 hours.

On Oahu, the Waikiki tourist board has the right to strong-arm IHS and the City Council into passing these bills before giving $500K to help the homeless; apparently, no one has the right to strong arm them by refusing their blackmail and demanding such help without the strings.

On Oahu, you have the right to say you're a progressive politician when you run for lower or higher office, but seemingly you do not have the chutzpah to actually be one when it comes to homelessness.

If you don't have a street address or a valid id, you can't vote, so no need help. Someone counting the votes? The campaign contributions?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Quotes for the day

In the community:

"We just think that supporting the bill sets the standard for public behavior. It isn't laws that criminalize people, it's people's behavior that criminalizes them."

--Connie Mitchell, head of IHS (Institute of Human Services), Honolulu

and, at my university:
"The Board of Regents and President David Lassner greatly appreciate the deep concerns and ideas shared by students and faculty in face-to-face meetings as well as by written and oral testimony over these past weeks. The fact that there are different perspectives on personnel matters and how they are handled does not mean that the concerns are not being heard."

--email after the firing of Chancellor Tom Apple & appointment of Robert Bley-Vroman as interim

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How the City Council Talks about Homelessness

The Honolulu City Council will take up Bills 42, 43, 45, 46, and 48 again on August 28 at 9 a.m. in Honolulu Hale. So I'm going to do some basic research on the public face of the Honolulu City Council's members on the issue(s) of homelessness. Interspersed with my research are statements and examples by H. Doug Matsuoka, who's been at this much longer than I have. [HDM] As he writes to me: "I've been trying to combat these bills since 2011's Bill 54 (which became 11-29 Revised Ordinances of Honolulu, I think). That was Tulsi Gabbard's bill and it seems some council members think if they replicate that kind of bill they will replicate that kind of success."
Many on the council are quite ambitious politicians, so they have websites that are easy to access. For example, Ikaika Anderson, Joey Manahan and Stanley Chang ran for Congress (they lost, but). But their websites are, for the most part, notably clean of any mention of this issue. As Colin Kippen would say, "there's a hole in his lauhala mat that covers the abyss."

Ikaika Anderson does not include homelessness among the issue on the website set up for his congressional campaign, though he seems to be one of the prime movers and shakers behind this move to criminalize.

[HDM]:  "Ikaika Anderson has been a big supporter of criminalization and "sidewalk" bills. He introduced 2013's Bill 6 that would have outlawed putting "any structure capable of providing human shelter" on the sidewalk. It was too idiotic even for the Council so they did not pass it. In fact, I believe Ikaika retracted it."

Ernie Martin's website includes a plea for better housing for the homeless. But he voted to pass on the legislation that criminalizes the homeless! When I talked to him while on a bike ride, he said, "something needs to be done," though he expressed concern for homeless children.

But HDM adds context: "But right after that [Anderson's bad bill] Ernie Martin introduced Bill 7 which did indeed pass and became ordinance 13-8, the notorious no-knock midnight raid law used in current raids."

Stanley Chang also ran for Congress as a liberal politician. He was endorsed by the Progressive Caucus in the US Congress. Where on his website is mention of homelessness? Nowhere that I see (at least on his "agenda for change" page). He also voted to pass Bills 42, 43, 45, 46, and 48 along. 

On another website, he talks about how the practice of pu`uhonua inspires him, but the writing is too vague to understand what specifically he means: 

More background from Doug:  "I met Kathryn Xian when she offered to help defeat Stanley Chang's Bill 59 (2013): I caught (here in the beginning of this clip) calling the homeless, "an epidemic of people obstructing the sidewalk.
Carol Fukunaga does not refer to homelessness on her City Council website, but has proposed adding public toilets downtown. Her facebook page informs us that she sponsored Bill 44, the sit-lie down bill that extends the reach of Bill 42 into her area:

"6/25: On Friday, Councilwoman Carol Fuku­naga unveiled Bill 44, which imposes the "sit-lie"ban in an area from River Street to Ward Avenue, makai of the H-1 freeway. Fuku­naga said the homelessness issue is just as acute in that area as it is in Wai­kiki. The Downtown-Chinatown region already has a state-imposed restriction on urination and defecation. -- Team #Carol2014" 

More background from Doug:  "Oh, Fukunaga has always been a proponent of the criminalization bills. Here's a clip answering the homeless question posed during a candidates forum":

Joey Manahan ran for Congress. His statement on homelessness exists, but is plenty vague:

Ron Menor's site is covered with platitudes; there's no specific mention of homelessness, though there's a photograph of Menor at a food bank.

Kymberley Marcos Pine's on-line presence is not very specific, though you can see here that she (and Breene Harimoto) have voted against Bills 42 and 45. 

Doug:  "Kymberly Pine opposed Bill 59 which so literally and directly violates the Kanawai Mamalahoe that she is afraid that the Hawaiians in her district would get upset. I've got a clip of her saying that if you want me to find it." When I (Susan) spoke to her after one Council meeting, she seemed genuine and concerned, and mentioned that she was an English major--

Breene Harimoto did not post this video; H. Doug Matsuoka did. But it speaks volumes. He's opposed to criminalizing homelessness, and he speaks with moral authority. 

As Doug points out to me--it comes through in this video--Harimoto believes he's following his Christian faith in supporting the homeless. How one wishes other Christians were as, well, Christian on this issue.

So, bear in mind that these politicians, no matter how liberal the politics they show on their websites might be, have made the decision to run under the radar on this important issue. Or to go for the cliches. Cliches, like the intricate Homeric similes spun by Mr. Kippen (Abercrombie's homeless "czar"), avoid the point by painting beautiful fuzzy and unrelated pictures. Thank goodness Doug takes and archives video of these council meetings and campaign events.

Note: If you like Doug's digital work, you might also be interested to hear that he loves fountain pens and medievalism. Go figure.

Monday, August 18, 2014

"Enforcement tools" as "encouragement": More on the criminalization of homeless on O`ahu

                               [Photo by Krystalle Marcellus]

Beneath this photograph, which is in equal parts amusing and unhelpful, today's Honolulu Star-Advertiser contains a front-page story, "Visitor industry pushes for more help from city," that explains why, at a recent Civil Beat forum on homelessness, the spokesman from Institute for Human Services (IHS) supported efforts to criminalize homelessness. These are Bills 42,  43, 45, 46, and 48 deferred by the City Council right before the primary election, now up for review again (redundantly so) on August 28. The first paragraph makes clear that funding for IHS from the tourist industry depends on the City Council's passing these bills. To help the homeless, in other words, you need to make it illegal to sit on sidewalks or urinate and defecate in public (in areas where there are no public restrooms, mind you).

I went to the Civil Beat panel at Fresh Cafe on August 14 to get better acquainted with the issues and personalities involved in them. On the panel were Collin Kippen, the governor's "homeless czar," Jung Yang, who works for the Mayor, and two men who've had experience running shelters, Jason Espero and Jerry Coffee of IHS. The moderators were Chad Blair and Gene Park. The room was packed with people: activists, homeless people, interested citizens like myself. The personalities were more compelling than the ideas, from Kippen's persistent flights of metaphor and analogy, Yang's more bureaucratic and defensive approach, Espero's earnestness, and Coffee's odd support for criminalization. One of Coffee's "theories" of homelessness is that it is like addiction, that there are cycles of addiction and recovery, relapse and further recovery. Nice theory, but where in it do we find any economic analysis; it would seem to take a village to recover from this problem, not one person with a substance abuse problem. I was so fascinated by this last panel member, for his self-unraveling remarks, that I looked him up when I got home, only to realize he is the son of a POW held in North Vietnam, a man who has authored a book titled Beyond Survival: Building on the Hard Times--a POW's Inspiring Story.

Make of that what you will. While Kippen was amusing the audience with his analogies about lauhala mats, holes, and the abyss; padding outside the wave; salmons and waterfalls and who gets to climb them; and the steep road we're on from which we fall, only to get put back on . . . the best information was provided by one of the questioners during the second hour. He referred to the way in which wages have flattened, but rental and housing prices have not. That many people who work cannot afford housing is true now, and will be more true in the near future. If the median price of a house on O`ahu is now $700,000, and developers are building 22 huge condo towers in Kakaako in the next few years for extremely high prices, then where will ordinary people live? That that sounds like a rhetoric question is evidence that the answers, too, seem only rhetorical.

There's Housing First, which is intended to house the "chronically homeless" first--these are the single men (mostly) who have mental health and substance abuse problems, those who will die on the streets if they're not helped soon. We were each given a lovely booklet about the Mayor's Housing First plans. Discussion of Housing First led to a quarrel with the panel over "stereotyping" the homeless as dirty drug addicts (Kathyrn Xian did a very good job of punching holes in this lauhala mat). I'd rather consider the groups without judgment, but it's clear that a lot of homeless families need immediate housing, too. Housing First passed the City Council, but has not been funded. And, while there are good ideas about micro-housing and other options, no one seems to know where they'll be located. And then there are these bills to criminalize homelessness. We're caught between a policy that is not being permitted to work, and one that will only hide the problem rather than address it in any practical, compassionate way. Brought up in discussion, but never addressed directly, were the developers currently making fortunes in Honolulu building condos largely for people who do not live here.

Which brings us back to the re-introduction of Bills 42, 43, 45, 46, 48 by Councilman Ikaika Anderson, chair of the Zoning Committee. According to today's Star-Advertiser, Anderson wants the criminalization bills to pass, and he complains about the Mayor's not doing enough to implement Housing First. Certainly, the tourist industry is playing hard ball with the council, demanding that these bills pass before they help to fund IHS. But theirs is the language of humanitarianism: "'Oftentimes, we see the visitor industry step up in times of crisis, like a tsunami in Japan, or the Philippines,' Egged said. 'It's more unusual to see it happen for a social crisis, but I think that everyone recognizes the magnitude of this issue for the community." (Rick Egged is the head of the Waikiki Improvement Association.) This after saying that seeing homeless people on the streets is bad for tourism (aka the economy, which trumps everything). Among the other problems, someone from Outrigger declares that the homeless are "not civil," because they steal towels panhandle, and block access to beaches.

Clearly, the people at the Waikiki Improvement Association and at IHS believe in "tough love." IHS's executive director, Connie Mitchell refers to the bills as "deterrents,"believing that when people are forced to move they realize that the shelter is not as bad of an option as they might have originally thought." Such is the "tough love" offered by local business and IHS, now tied together by way of a trade(?) of money for criminalizing the homeless. (Well, if you're not a criminal, you'd make the choice of going to a shelter, they are more than seeming to say.) But if "love" is, on the one side, the desire to make disappear in order to help business and, on the other, a desire to have people use your facilities (rumored to have bed bugs and less than kind staffing), then what is love's opposite?


Bill 42 prohibits sitting and lying on sidewalks in the Waikiki Special District . . .

Bill 43 prohibits urinating and defecating in public areas in Waikiki

Bill 45 prohibits sitting and lying on sidewalks throughout Oahu

Bill 46 prohibits urinating and defecating in public areas islandwide.

Bill 48 prohibits sitting and lying on the sidewalks during specific times in specific commercial and business areas within Chinatown, downtown, McCully-Moiliili, Waipahu, Kalihi and Kailua.

[from the Star-Advertiser, August 18, 2014]