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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                          
June 5, 2023 

For Information, Contact:
Carrie Ann Shirota
(808) 380-7052

Stop Planned Sweeps Until Adequate Shelter or Safe Spaces are Designated

Honolulu, Hawai‘i: The ACLU of Hawai‘i issued a letter on June 2, 2023,  to the County of Hawai’i demanding that it stop planned sweeps of houseless people and their possessions until the County either sets up emergency shelters that can adequately house Hawai‘i County’s unhoused community, or designates safe spaces where houseless community members can exist without being subject – every single day and every single second – to County enforcement actions.

The ACLU of Hawai‘i learned that the County of Hawai‘i conducted a sweep on May 24, 2023, forcibly evicting a group of houseless people from Hale Hālāwai beach in Kona.  The County intends to conduct another sweep on June 7, 2023, near the Kona Community Aquatic Center, as well as future sweeps.

On the day of the Hale Hālāwai sweep, there were zero emergency homeless shelter vacancies on the Kona side of the island. On any given day, there are generally few if any vacancies.

In its demand letter, the ACLU of Hawai‘i cited Martin v. City of Boise, a U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in 2019 affirming the well-established principle that a municipality’s enforcement of an ordinance “violates the Eight Amendment [to the U.S. Constitution] insofar as it imposes criminal sanctions against homeless individuals  for sleeping outdoors, on public property, when no alternative shelter is available to them.”

The ACLU of Hawai‘i also reminded the County that it has challenged other unconstitutional enforcement actions on neighboring islands, including in the City and County of Honolulu and Maui County.  The prior lawsuit against the City and County of Honolulu resulted in a legal victory for the ACLU.  Also, in November, the Hawai‘i Supreme Court decided to hear the ACLU of Hawai‘i’s lawsuit challenging the legality of a September 2021 sweep by Maui County officials of a houseless encampment known as Pu‘uhonua o Kanahā near Kanahā Beach Park.

Paul Normann, Executive Director of Neighborhood Place of Puna and co-chair of Community Alliance Partners explained why service providers have continuously asked the county to refrain from conducting sweeps. “When County Leadership orders police to conduct a sweep, they exacerbate the homeless crisis by making it harder for service providers to contact and help people. Beyond that, these sweeps waste taxpayer dollars by pushing people around without providing housing or shelter.”

“If the County leadership really wants to end homelessness, they need to aggressively prioritize truly affordable housing and supportive services,” said Normann. “Sweeps are cruel, and they don’t work. That’s the bottom line.

“Hawai’i County has a duty to protect the constitutional rights of the houseless community”, said Carrie Ann Shirota, Policy Director of the ACLU of Hawai‘i.  “Forcing people to leave under the threat of arrest without access to alternative shelter or safe public spaces violates the Eight Amendment and results in cruel and unusual punishment.  These policies are contrary to building safe, healthy, and equitable communities, and further exacerbate trauma experienced by houseless people at the hands of the County and Police Department.  Hawai‘i County can and must do better - by focusing on permanent affordable housing options, emergency shelter beds and alternative housing options, along with increased health and support services.”


Copy of the ACLU’s demand letter is attached.

The mission of the Hawai‘i affiliate of the ACLU is to protect the civil liberties and civil rights contained in the state and federal constitutions through litigation, legislative and public education programs statewide. The ACLU is funded primarily through private donations and offers its services at no cost to the public. The ACLU does not accept any government funds.

UPDATE: June 7, 2023

ACLU OF HAWAI‘I STATEMENT: Hawaiʻi County houseless sweeps disregard constitutional right

On June 6, 2023, the Office of Mayor Mitch Roth released a letter to the media in response to the ACLU of Hawaiʻi demand letter we sent last week requesting the County of Hawaiʻi stop the planned houseless sweeps until adequate shelter or safe spaces are designated. Here is our response:

“The County of Hawaiʻi should take a balanced approach to addressing community needs. It can do so by working to eliminate poverty and other root causes of houselessness and providing emergency shelter, safe spaces, and permanent housing for individuals and families experiencing houselessness, instead of wasting ‘substantial’ resources on ineffective law enforcement actions while emergency shelters are full/near capacity.

The response to our letter issued by Mayor Roth’s office on June 6, 2023 does not address the constitutional violations inherent in its enforcement actions at Hale Hālāwai. Our purpose in starting this conversation was to impress upon County officials that the right to enforce park rules does not permit the County to disregard the legal obligation they have to protect the constitutional rights of houseless residents in their jurisdiction.

We are disappointed to learn that on June 7, 2023 the County once again stripped houseless residents of their personal belongings and forcibly removed them from their place of residence without due regard for this constitutional mandate. As a result of County officials’ actions, we will be evaluating all available options.” – Taylor Brack, Staff Attorney ACLU of Hawaiʻi

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