Hawaiʻi County defends homeless sweeps on public property in letter to ACLU of Hawaiʻi
In a June 2 letter, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaiʻi said a homeless sweep on May 24 in Kona violated the people’s constitutional rights and demanded Hawaiʻi County stop future enforcement operations until it could provide shelter or a safe area for all houseless individuals.
The county responded June 6 with a letter of its own, saying it is committed to a “balanced approach that considers the well-being of both the homeless population and the general public.”
The county’s letter defending its May 24 “large-scale enforcement operation” that it conducted in the early morning hours at Hale Hālāwai Beach Park along touristy Aliʻi Drive in Kailua-Kona.
The county also said it will conduct its planned enforcement operation on June 7 at the area around the Kona Aquatics Center, where there is a homeless encampment.
The May 24 enforcement operation involved collaborative efforts and resources from various organizations, including the County of Hawaiʻi Department of Parks & Recreation, Hawaiʻi Police Department, Office of Housing and Community Development, West Hawaiʻi Community Health Center, Care Hawaiʻi – Mental Health and Crisis Outreach, HOPE Services – Shelter Outreach and 808 Homeless Taskforce, according to the county.
Prior to the May 24 sweep, a 2-week outreach program was initiated, which led to the identification of 23 individuals experiencing homelessness at Hale Hālāwai. During the outreach, these individuals were informed about the upcoming park enforcement action, offered temporary storage solutions for their personal property and provided access to homeless support services, the county said in a June 6 press release.
Mayor Mitch Roth, who initiated the enforcement operations, clarified his administration’s approach to members of his cabinet, stating: “Our administration is not conducting forced homeless sweeps. We are compassionately enforcing park rules with the assistance of numerous human service organizations, who are there to provide vital resources to those affected by the enforcement efforts.
“Ensuring the safety of our parks for everyone, including our children, elders, local families and employees, is our priority. We have a responsibility to address unsafe conditions within the extent permissible by law.”
When the enforcement operation was conducted on May 24, only 10 individuals experiencing homelessness remained at Hale Hālāwai. All 10 individuals received assistance, including temporary or long-term housing options, and some arranged flights to reunite with their families, the county said.
No citations or arrests were made among the remaining individuals on that day.
While the option of storing personal property was emphasized, none of the individuals chose to utilize this service. As a result, all unclaimed property was removed from the park, and two tons of rubbish was disposed of.
The Roth Administration said it will continue efforts to assist homeless individuals through close collaboration with on-island service providers.
“As we continue our efforts to maintain the health, welfare and safety of the public at our county parks while addressing the needs of community members experiencing homelessness, we welcome dialogue with the ACLU on this very important issue,” said the county’s letter to the ACLU which was signed by the county’s managing director Lee E. Lord.