I am frustrated and appalled and deeply distressed by the repeated introduction of legislative cruelty at the Honolulu City Council. Just saying that something doesn’t “target” the homeless does not mean that the law itself affects the houseless and the housed equally.
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Lying down on a sidewalk could soon be against the law in Honolulu.
A new bill authored by City Councilman Stanley Chang told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the proposal, which would ban lying down on public sidewalks on Oahu, is about public safety and does not target the homeless.
Protestors, street performs and people with a medical condition would be exempt from the law, which would see violators fined up to $50 dollars.
I am excerpting several paragraphs below from Jeremy Waldron’s passionate and extremely important 1991 article “Homelessness and the Issue of Freedom.” UCLA Law Review 39, 295-324 (pdf). Emphases added. He talks about subway sleeping ordinances as those are the particulars of his experience as an NYU professor, but the words apply just as well to Honolulu’s wretched ordinances.
(320) Moreover, though we say there is nothing particularly dignified about sleeping or urinating, there is certainly something deeply and inherently undignified about being prevented from doing so. Every torturer knows this: to break the human spirit, focus the mind of the victim through petty restrictions pitilessly imposed on the banal necessities of human life. We should be ashamed that we have allowed our laws of public and private property to reduce a million or more citizens to something approaching this level of degradation.
(318) I have argued that a rule against performing an act in a public place amounts in effect to a comprehensive ban on that action so far as the homeless are concerned. If that argument is accepted, our next question should be: “How serious is this limitation on freedom?”
(315) Since private places and public places between them exhaust all the places that there are, there is nowhere that these actions may be performed by the homeless person. And since freedom to perform a concrete action requires freedom to perform it at some place, it follows that the homeless person does not have the freedom to perform them. If sleeping is prohibited in public places, then sleeping is comprehensively prohibited to the homeless. If urinating is prohibited in public places (and if there are no public lavatories) then the homeless are simply unfree to urinate. These are not altogether comfortable conclusions, and they are certainly not comfortable for those who have to live with them.
(314) Four facts are telling in this regard. First, it is well known among those who press for these laws that the subway is such an unpleasant place to sleep that almost no one would do it if they had anywhere else to go. Secondly, the pressure for these laws comes as a response to what is well known to be “the problem of homelessness.” It is not as though people suddenly became concerned about sleeping in the subway as such (as though that were a particularly dangerous activity to perform there, like smoking or jumping onto a moving train). When people write to the Transit Authority and say, “Just get them out. I don’t care. Just get them out any way you can,” we all know who the word “them” refers to. People do not want to be confronted with the sight of the homeless —it is uncomfortable for the well-off to be reminded of the human price that is paid for a social structure like theirs — and they are willing to deprive those people of their last opportunity to sleep in order to protect themselves from this discomfort. Thirdly, the legislation is called for and promoted by people who are secure in the knowledge that they themselves have some place where they are permitted to sleep. Because they have some place to sleep which is not the subway, they infer that the subway is not a place for sleeping. The subway is a place where those who have some other place to sleep may do things besides sleeping. Finally, and most strikingly, those who push for these laws will try to amend them or reformulate them if they turn out to have an unwelcome impact on people who are not homeless. For example, a city ordinance in Clearwater, Florida, prohibiting sleeping in public, was struck down as too broad because it would have applied even to a person sleeping in his car. Most people who have cars also have homes, and we would not want a statute aimed at the homeless to prevent car owners from sleeping in public.
(304) Now one question we face as a society-a broad question of justice and social policy-is whether we are willing to tolerate an economic system in which large numbers of people are homeless. Since the answer is evidently, “Yes,” the question that remains is whether we are willing to allow those who are in this predicament to act as free agents, looking after their own needs, in public places — the only space available to them. It is a deeply frightening fact about the modem United States that those who have homes and jobs are willing to answer “Yes” to the first question and “No” to the second.
HONOLULU CITY COUNCIL SPEAKER REGISTRATION
Persons wishing to testify on the morning calendar are requested to register by 10 a.m. as follows:
a. On‑Line at ;
b. By faxing to 768-3826 your name, phone number and subject matter;
c. By filling out the registration form in person; or
d. By calling 768-3813.
Persons who have not registered to testify by 10 a.m. will be given an opportunity to speak on an item following oral testimonies of the registered speakers.
Written testimony may be faxed to 768-3826 or transmitted via the internet at for distribution at the meeting.
Filmed over the course of one winter in Portland, Oregon, American Winter presents an intimate and emotionally evocative snapshot of the state of our economy as it is playing out in many American families.
Working together with the nonprofit organization 211info in Portland, the filmmakers were given full access to monitor and record calls from distressed families who were calling 211’s emergency hotline in search of help. They then began following the stories of some of these callers in more depth over several months.
Where do you go when you lose your home? Living in a Ramada Hotel from week to week.
"For example, over the years, a steady stream of freshmen students have visited my concrete minimalist office in UC Berkeley’s Wurster Hall seeking advice on how to write papers on homelessness in the Third World. They are frustrated by the rarity of the terminology of homelessness as they journey beyond U.S. borders. And while never fully admitted, there is quite a bit of surprise and even profound unease at the idea that "home" rather than "elsewhere" might be the underdeveloped Other, a site of the lack, or failure, so often reserved for the Third World. As they begin their research projects, they find themselves surrounded by a rich array of housing terms that are used in Third World settings — from "slums" and "squatter settlements" to "pavement dwellers" and "informal subdivisions" — a vocabulary that indicates a spectrum of housing practices. In many ways, the dominance of the term "homelessness" in the American context bears testimony to the poverty of housing responses here."
We’re headed to the Convoy of Hope this morning. Some statistics from the Hawai’i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice’s recent report, “The State of Poverty in Hawaii”:
The poor and the homeless have few advocates. Especially the homeless. (See 2012 Honolulu elections in which taking away people’s belongings is considered a major success in humane homeless management.) But even the Scroogiest “are there no workhouses?” among us hesitate in our condemnation of those shiftless, improvident poor when faced with a poor, homeless kid.
Children’s rights advocate Marian Wright Edelman and her husband Peter Edelman are coming to Hawaii as part of the Artists for Appleseed event on August 24. Original MSNBC video clip that I couldn’t get to work via newwavefeminism:
The MHP show talking with Children’s Rights Activist Marian Wright Edelman about the plight of poor children in the country.
From dGenerate films:
STREET LIFE explores the hidden lives of homeless migrants who survive in the shadows of one of Shanghai’s most historic and affluent streets.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of Chinese migrants are drawn to the allure of Shanghai, one of the world’s most vibrant cities, with hopes of earning a decent living. Some end up in the dark alleys of Nanjing Road, Shanghai’s largest shopping street, where they learn to hustle and scrape together any kind of living they can. One migrant, known as Black Skin, faces numerous pressures in his daily existence, including police violence. Black Skin’s story intersects with those of fellow bottle collectors, enterprising thieves and even a young boy who was abandoned. Eventually Black Skin goes mad, dancing wildly through the crowds of Nanjing Road and in the doorways of luxury shops.
That guy & his belly really reminded me of that one actor in Stephen Chow's films. For the record, Kung Fu Hustle made me love the idea of Shanghai almost enough to forget how much more I love Taipei in reality.
I floated past the Occupy Honolulu encampment at Thomas Square earlier this evening, curious after reading the Civil Beat article on their December meeting with Mayor Carlisle following the new city ordinance prohibiting the storage of personal property on public sidewalks. Asking for an exception to Bill 54, the stored property ordinance, seemed like a failed opportunity on the part of Occupy Honolulu to claim solidarity with the some of the most maligned people within the 99%.
The Occupy encampment is located on an awkward corner of Beretania, facing away from oncoming traffic. I imagine it’s been little more than a blurry splotch of tents for bus riders and drivers commuting in the mornings. Turns out that tonight is their last night. Property removal notices have been pasted to nearly everything, the Welcome sign, the potted plants, the bookshelves, and of course the tents. I wish I had brought a camera just to document the thoroughness with which items had been tagged by city workers. It felt like a Alice in Wonderland version of Hoarders. The woman at the literature table mentioned that the table itself was pretty much the only object not tagged for removal. “This is protected under free speech, because we’re distributing information.” She maintained that the tents should also fall under First Amendment protection because of the slogans written on their sides.
In the comments section of the original article, a Dan Clark wrote
"Liberal idealists malign ‘colonial powers’ for ‘occupying’ aboriginal lands in the US, India, Africa, Latin America, Taiwan, Japan or the West Bank yet you think it is completely okay to monopolize the sidewalks and parks. Sidewalks are made for [walking], not camping. Frankly, the Occupy Movement is a colonial power trying to steal the parks and sidewalks the rest of us pay for."
Setting aside the metaphorical silliness of equating protest with colonialism, it’s clear that the question of what constitutes acceptable public use of sidewalks needs to be discussed. A lot of it boils down to what we’ve learned to think of as normal. After 5 years in Seoul, I am used to seeing semi-permanent protest camps set up in front of public buildings and corporate headquarters, with a series of posters and banners exhaustively explaining the controversy to any passers-by. The vinyl lean-tos are a kind of three-dimensional newspaper with only one topic. So even though I am a bit of a grinch when it comes to the efficacy of Occupy encampments in terms of long term capacity building, I can imagine their potential as tangible tactile media.
And I suspect the horror with which some Oahu residents view being homeless in public — “what will the tourists think! they’ll never want to come back to Hawaii!” — is because homelessness at this scale is a relatively recent phenomenon here. All us mainland-raised malihinis think of homeless folks as a consistent and unsurprising presence on big city streets. Far from our visitors huffing & puffing in outrage at the sight of a wino in Waikiki, everyone has marveled at how much easier it is to maintain dignity and hygiene where there are accessible public bathrooms and showers at beach parks.
Oddly enough, what visiting friends have grumbled about are the edifices of abandoned appliances and furniture that block Honolulu sidewalks. I know that bulky items pick-up is a perennial topic at neighborhood board meetings. A Department of Health project with Waipahu High students came to the conclusion that community health was negatively affected by all the heaps of trash. Combined with intermittent or crumbling sidewalks, abandoned rubbish is a greater menace to pedestrian freedom than a homeless woman with a fort of suitcases at the bus stop or a protest camp on a not particularly visible corner of a busy thoroughfare.
I’m still mulling over how to reframe the issue and why we accept sitting furniture but not sitting people on our sidewalks, but I suspect there is a way to have this conversation. I think the next step is to nerd out and get a copy of Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris’ book Sidewalks: Conflict and Negotation over Public Space.