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Long life to Mayor Caldwell and Councilmembers - My testimony on the bills criminalizing homelessness

[This is my testimony to the Honolulu City Council which will hear Bills 42, 43, and 44 on Thursday, June 26, at 8:45 am, then immediately again by the Zoning Committee at 9 am. Bills 42 and 44 propose to make it illegal to sit or lie on the sidewalk (in Waikiki for Bill 42, extending to Downtown in Bill 44), and Bill 43 makes it illegal to urinate or defecate in public even if there are no restrooms available. These criminalize the acts of living, innocent behavior, of the homeless without addressing any remedy for them. The Council refuses to address the causes of homelessness on Oahu, where the median selling price of a used house is $682,000.

Links to the bills and other cited material are at the end. Doug]

Aloha Chair Martin, Vice Chair Anderson, and Councilmembers,

As a founding director of Hawaii Guerrilla Video Hui, I have documented the raids on the homeless by HPD and City DFM crews (sometimes with its Cabinet level Director calling the shots). These raids generally happen in the middle of the night between 2am and 4am in order to catch the homeless unaware. Rather than defend the homeless from harm or theft, the police help steal tents, food, clothes, and bedding — all the Earthly possessions — from people who have the least.

I strongly oppose Bills 42, 43, and 44, which target the poor and homeless by criminalizing innocent, non-violent behavior. I remind the Council that the homeless are your constituents, and you are obligated to serve their interests. I only see their interests violated in these bills which are blatant attacks on the most vulnerable members of our community. 

Where is the help for those who are mentally ill, or too aged to care for themselves? Where is the help for those too young to have standing in our court system who are fleeing abusive situations or sexual exploitation? Where is the action targeting the causes of homelessness: the high cost of housing and the lack of jobs paying a living wage?

Your obligation is to use public resources for the public good. The homeless are the public. How are they served by these measures? I only see their interests ignored in an effort to serve commercial clientele at the expense of these constituents. In short these bills put private commercial interests over the public good.

We often hear how the very sight of poor and homeless people disturb our tourists and how important the tourist industry is to our economy and how we must do what we can to ensure its well being. But who is this "tourist industry" and what do they do that requires us to take such drastic measures against our own people? 

At the same time the Washington Post reported, "Hawaii’s $14 billion tourism industry back to pre-recession levels," (Sept 27, 2013) the State of Hawaii's Point in Time Survey reported that the homeless population had increased 30% in the past 5 years.

If we are to take special care of the tourist industry it is because there is supposed to be a direct correlation between its well being and benefit to our community. If we are to believe the figures, the tourist industry may have made some rich, but has failed the public even as it contributes to political campaign coffers. Members of the tourist industry led forces opposing raising the minimum wage. Public benefit is obviously not the inevitable result of a wealthier tourist industry. 

Last year's Bill 59 criminalizing lying down on the sidewalk failed because it was immoral (Councilmember Harimoto) and that it was in direct violation of Kamehameha's Law of the Splintered Paddle (Councilmember Pine).  Bills 42 and 44 are even more extreme in that they add merely sitting on the sidewalk as an offense punishable — in the case of Bill 44 — by up to $1,000 and 30 days in prison.

[Councilmember Harimoto's opposing Bill 59 criminalizing lying down on the sidewalk as immoral:]

[Councilmember Pine opposing Bill 59 on the grounds that it violates the Hawaii Constitution:]

But all on the Council have heard this from me before. I have testified against the criminalization of the poor and homeless for years now, and my arguments that the practice is a violation of civil rights and a form of class warfare have to be repeated once more.

I was reminded by a Buddhist priest that more important than justice, is compassion. Those who seek justice are often filled with bitterness and hatred toward the perpetrators of injustice. Compassion, on the other hand, is experiencing what others feel, knowing what it's like to be someone else. 

So with compassion, to Mayor Caldwell and Councilmembers I wish long life. You may experience the ailments common to long life: incontinence, dementia, financial uncertainty and homelessness. May you experience what others in your community experience. And may you fully experience the consequences of those who act by your example.

Mahalo for your public service,

H. Doug Matsuoka
22 June 2014
Makiki, Honolulu

Bill 42 criminalizing sitting and lying down on Waikiki sidewalks:

Bill 43 criminalizing urinating and defecating downtown:

Bill 44 extending Bill 42 provisions to include downtown and increasing punishment to $1,000 and 30 days in jail:

Email testimony to Honolulu City Council (Use subject line to tell them you oppose Bills 42, 43, and 44):

Sign up to testify:

Honolulu Council Calendar with links to agendas:


  1. And the money given for services is mostly used to pay admin costs from my experiences...


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