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Monday, July 8, 2024
City, ACLU Settle Homeless Lawsuit
By News Release @ 6:20 PM :: 619 Views :: Honolulu County, Homelessness

City and County of Honolulu and ACLU agree to end lawsuit over Public Welfare Laws

News release from City and County of Honolulu, 08 July 2024

HONOLULU – Today, the City and County of Honolulu and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Hawai‘i have agreed to end the lawsuit Mahelona, et al. v. City and County of Honolulu, which challenged the City's public welfare laws.

The ACLU of Hawai‘i filed the lawsuit on July 23, 2023, claiming that the City’s enforcement of various laws aimed at protecting our community's well-being was unconstitutional. These laws included rules about park closure hours, dealing with sidewalk nuisances, managing stored property on public grounds, and restrictions on sitting and lying in certain places at certain times.

In January 2024, the City successfully argued to keep these important safety measures in place while the lawsuit was ongoing. With today’s agreement, the lawsuit has officially ended.

This decision comes shortly after a United States Supreme Court ruling in City of Grants Pass vs. Johnson, which confirmed that local governments can regulate public property through laws like camping ordinances and park closure rules without violating the constitutional rights to protect against cruel and unusual punishments.

“I’m extremely pleased with this outcome,” said Mayor Rick Blangiardi. “It completely strengthens our ability to enforce these laws to protect our residents and visitors. We’ll keep working with all stakeholders to address homelessness and make sure our public spaces remain safe and clean. We are also committed to working with Governor Green and his team to provide unprecedented resources for helping the homeless, from shelters to permanent housing.”

Today’s resolution confirms the City’s dedication to public safety being a top priority and the effectiveness of our measures to keep our community healthy and secure.

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Parties Agree to Dismissal of Lawsuit Challenging Honolulu Houseless Sweeps

News Release from Hawaii ACLU, July 8, 2024

HONOLULU, HI – The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai‘i (ACLU of Hawaiʻi) and the City & County of Honolulu (“City”) have jointly agreed to dismiss a lawsuit challenging houseless sweeps in the City and County of Honolulu.

Background of Lawsuit

The lawsuit, filed by the ACLU of Hawai’i in July 2023, alleges that in the absence of sufficient shelter space for Honolulu’s houseless community, the City’s enforcement of anti-houseless laws unjustly criminalizes innocent acts of survival that houseless people have no choice but to perform in public places.

The ACLU of Hawai'i filed a preliminary injunction motion in August 2023, arguing that the City’s sweeps of houseless encampments constitute cruel or unusual punishment under the Hawaiʻi Constitution and asked the court to order the City to stop such targeted enforcement actions to prevent further irreparable harm.

During an October 2023 hearing, the court heard testimony from five named plaintiffs as well as other houseless individuals. They shared personal stories of harm, marginalization, and trauma caused by the City’s sweeps and other enforcement actions. The record also included supporting testimony brought by an expert on housing and urban sociology.

In January 2024, the court denied the request for a preliminary injunction to halt the alleged unconstitutional practices. In its findings of fact, the court cited evidence showing a total of 1,502 emergency shelter beds on O‘ahu compared to 4,028 houseless residents, according to the most recent census.

Despite this stark disparity between emergency shelter beds and total number of houseless people on O‘ahu, the court held that while “enforcement of these laws result in unquestionable disruption to members of the houseless community, such disruption does not equate to ‘outrageous’ or ‘shocking’ punishment which rises to the level of constitutional violation.”

The ACLU of Hawai'i sought to appeal the court’s preliminary injunction decision on the basis that it adopted an incorrect legal standard, but the court ultimately denied permission to appeal.

ACLU of Hawaiʻi Legal Director, Wookie Kim, said:

“We applaud the bravery and resilience of our clients, who spoke up against a failing system while dealing with extraordinary personal hardships. The collective struggle to provide for our houseless neighbors does not begin or end with litigation—it must come from strong, visionary leadership willing to provide resources and funding to meet the needs of vulnerable members of our community. We all share the responsibility to make Honolulu better for everyone who lives here. Our houseless neighbors deserve dignity and respect and protection of their civil rights and liberties under the law.”

ACLU of Hawai‘i Executive Director, Salmah Y. Rizvi, said:

“Although this particular lawsuit has ended, the ACLU of Hawai‘i will continue to fight against policies and practices that criminalize our poor and houseless neighbors and pursue justice through our legal system. Our state courts have a long history of providing greater civil rights and liberties protections under our Hawai‘i Constitution. We must never forget that our Hawai‘i Constitution codifies Ke Kānāwai Māmalahoe (Law of the Splintered Paddle). Enacted by King Kamehameha I, this edict proclaimed that all innocent and defenseless people, especially elderly and children, be able to sleep safely on the roadside and travel freely unharmed. We urge the government to reassess its punitive sweeps practices and focus on investments in housing, not handcuffs.”

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Big Q: What do you think of the city and ACLU’s joint dismissal of the lawsuit challenging the city’s homeless sweeps?

HPR July 3, 2024: How the Supreme Court's sit-lie ban could impact Honolulu's homeless enforcement 

CB: ACLU Drops Homelessness Lawsuit Against Honolulu - Honolulu Civil Beat

SA: City and County of Honolulu, ACLU jointly dismiss ‘public welfare laws’ lawsuit

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