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Stop Criminalizing Poverty and the Homeless

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Dear Mayor Caldwell and Honolulu City Councilmembers:

The people of Hawaii and potential tourists from abroad kindly urge you to stop proposing bills meant to criminalize the homeless on Oahu. This attempt casts a dark shadow over Hawaii, sending a message to the world that Hawaii is a mean-spirited place. 

Currently City Bills 42, 43, 45, 46, and 48 unfairly criminalize non-violent behavior which would lead to fines and incarceration of homeless persons and families who instead need housing, mental health care, or both. 

This petition urges you to recognize that passing laws criminalizing the homeless will not work, and your constituents, as well as prospective tourists, ask you to enact real solutions to end homelessness, such as fully implementing Housing First and its operational costs.


Issuing citations to homeless persons is expensive. San Francisco spent $9.8 million between 2004 and 2008 on over 56,000 “quality of life” citations (NLCHP, 2009).

It may in fact make people more likely to remain homeless. Indianapolis spends $3 to $7 million annually on its population of 500 homeless individuals (similar in size to Honolulu’s unsheltered homeless population estimate of 505 in 2013). The Indianapolis study notably linked contact with law enforcement with longer periods of homelessness and higher costs associated with healthcare (ibid).

Housing Works! Seattle’s programs to place the chronically homeless into permanent housing cost $1.1 annually and saved a total of $2.5 million per year ($2,400 per person), which was previously spent on medical expenses, arrests, and shelter (ibid).

Criminalization Laws Have No Effect On Businesses. In 2012, just before Berkeley voters voted against a proposed sit-lie law, a University of California at Berkeley law school report found “no meaningful evidence to support the arguments that Sit-Lie laws increase economic activity or improve services to homeless people.” (Cooter, et al, 2012)


Criminalization will only succeed in 1) wasting taxpayer dollars, 2) overburdening our already overcrowded prison system, 3) dehumanize and traumatize the extreme poor, 4) turn our streets into a police state with selective enforcement of non-violent behavior, and 5) send a message to the world that Hawaii is a mean and uncaring place without the foresight to implement real solutions. 

We kindly urge you to indefinitely discard bills seeking to criminalize poverty and homelessness and implement housing services instead. 



The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and The National Coalition for the Homeless (July 2009)

Cooter, Joseph, Ericka Meanor, and Emily Soli. "Does Sit-Lie Work: Will Berkeley’s “Measure S” Increase Economic Activity and Improve Services to Homeless People?" Berkeley Law Policy Advocacy Clinic 10 (2012): n. pag. University of California Berkeley School of Law. Web. 25 June 2014.



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