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Thursday, September 17, 2015
ACLU Sues Honolulu in Bid to Keep Homeless out of Shelters
By News Release @ 1:41 AM :: 4408 Views :: Homelessness

City attorney statement on ACLU lawsuit

News Release from City and County of Honolulu September 16, 2015

Honolulu – City and County of Honolulu Corporation Counsel Donna Leong issued the following statement today in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai‘i Foundation:

“The Department of the Corporation Counsel will defend the city in this lawsuit vigorously. 

“In other challenges, federal courts have upheld the constitutionality of the Stored Property and Sidewalk Nuisance Ordinances. The ordinances support the safety, health, and welfare of all residents of the City and County of Honolulu and the city believes the ordinances will survive the current challenge.

“The city will continue to enforce the Stored Property and Sidewalk Nuisance Ordinances.”

Please note: This complaint pertains to enforcement of the Stored Property Ordinance and Sidewalk Nuisance Ordinances and is not related to the sit/lie bills. 

  *   *   *   *   *

City and County of Honolulu Sued Over Homeless Sweeps

More than a dozen homeless and formerly homeless individuals file class action lawsuit over City’s immediate destruction of property

News Release from ACLU Hawaii September, 16, 2015

Read the complaint: MartinvCC_Complaint

Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4

HONOLULU, HAWAI‘I – The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai‘i Foundation (“ACLU”) and the law firm of Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing filed a class-action lawsuit today against the City and County of Honolulu (“City”) in federal court. The lawsuit alleges that the City violated the United States Constitution when it destroyed personal property belonging to the plaintiffs – who are or have been homeless – without due process of law.

The lawsuit alleges that instead of impounding and storing seized property and giving adequate opportunity to reclaim the items, property seized by City officials was instead immediately destroyed. The lawsuit also alleges that no notice, receipt, or information regarding how property might be recovered was given to the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit seeks stop the City from violating the Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights; end the practice of destroying personal property without following procedures; and to require the City to pay damages and attorneys’ fees.

In just one unannounced sweep in Kaka’ako, on November 13, 2014, City officials seized and destroyed the Plaintiffs’ property, including their food, childrenʻs toys, prescription medications, and government identification documents. In some cases, entire tents, obviously filled with personal belongings, were thrown into a waiting garbage truck and crushed. City workers have repeatedly refused to allow property owners to retrieve necessary personal belongings like medications and identification documents, instead threatening them with arrest if they interfere with the sweep. The City continues to violate the Constitution in its sweeps, by announcing that it will immediately destroy certain items (like tarps and perishable food) and that it will arrest anyone who gets in the way.

Attorney Kristin L. Holland, Of Counsel with the Law Firm of Alston, Hunt, Floyd and Ing, said: “The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit the government from seizing a person’s property and destroying it without due process, but that’s exactly what happened to the Plaintiffs. We will seek all available remedies for our clients, and will work to ensure that these violations do not recur.”

ACLU Hawai‘i Legal Director Dan Gluck said: “The Constitution protects us all equally, regardless of who we are and whether we are rich or poor. Using arrests to solve homelessness and destroying what little property a homeless individual has to survive is contrary to a fair and just community. All these policies do is set families back and makes it harder for them to build productive lives.”

Plaintiff Tabatha Martin said: ““Like many people here, my husband and I are working hard. Weʻre saving up for a small apartment for us and our four-year-old daughter. Every time the City comes and throws away our tents, or our clothes, or our IDs, they throw away our lives. We have to start all over again and pay to replace those things.  All of our savings are used up, keeping us on the street even longer.”

---30---

SA: Sweep stakes high as ACLU files lawsuit

NYT: New York Times is Very Happy

Tabatha Martin in the News

July, 2014: Her husband, Tracy Martin, says he used to put in 130 hours every two weeks until he had a heart attack last May.  Tracy says he couldn't go back to work at full-capacity, so he lost his job.

"We applied for welfare, but the paperwork got screwed up for three-months straight," Tracy said.  The Martins managed to make ends meet for another three months, but when they could no longer afford rent they were kicked out of their Pearl City apartment.

"When we lost our place, we got the first month of food stamps and financial benefits.  Then the next month, we lost it because we didn't have an address," Tracy said.

"The sweeps literally paralyze you," Tracy said, explaining that the family lost everything during an enforcement a few months ago.

"My daughter had a fever over a hundred and my wife was trying to get to an appointment at the welfare office when they came.  I explained to the police what was going on and the officer said, 'Alright, pass these guys' and told me, 'Go take care of your family.'  They did that and they went down and did everything else.  We went and when we got back, nothing was there.  They went down the street, came right back, took our stuff and left," said Tracy.

July, 2014: A local family reacts to the deferment of two bills that aimed to move the homeless off sidewalks and make it illegal to defecate or urinate in public.  The Martin family has been struggling to raise their 3 year old girl on the streets of Kakaako for close to a year. They say they are not criminals.

Aug 2014: Tracy, Thalia and Tabatha Martin and Katherine Xian, executive director for the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery testified at the Committee on Zoning and Planning public hearing.

January, 2015: With Pono Soap's proceeds, Xian is trying to establish housing subsidies for these at-risk families, to help them find a home and then help them pay the rent.

So far, Xian has helped one family find housing not far from their previous encampment. Tabitha Martin told HuffPost that she, her husband, Tracy, and their three-year old daughter, Talia, were evicted from their apartment a year and a half ago when Tracy was let go from his job as a restaurant manager. He had recently suffered a heart attack.

A friend of Tracy's had lived in the homeless encampment in Kakaako, so they figured they would stay there until things were sorted out. But because of Honolulu's strict street sweeping policies, Tracy's identification and birth certificate were taken, which made it more difficult to get a job or apply for services from Honolulu's Institute for Human Services.

Now that they're in a home, Tabitha told HuffPost, the future looks "a lot more possible now." While Tabitha works as a parking attendant at a community center, Tracy stays home to care for Talia and is looking for another job.

"I really want to pay back [Xian's] organization when I'm able to," Tabitha said.

July, 2015: Tabitha Martin, who has lived in the Kakaako encampment for two years with her husband and three-year-old daughter....

Martin said she and her husband try to police the area, but some things are out of their control.

“No matter where you’re from, you’re going to have some bad seeds,” Martin said in an interview. “We just try to make it livable for everyone.”

Martin said her family lived in an apartment until her husband had a heart attack and lost his job. She hopes they can stay in the encampment long enough to save up money to live in an apartment again

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