Latest Articles

  • Honolulu Mayor Vetoes Latest Sit-Lie Bill

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Mayor Kirk Caldwell has vetoed the latest bill in a series of ordinances passed by the Honolulu City Council that bans people from sitting or lying on sidewalks and in pedestrian malls.

    The Honolulu mayor has been the main proponent of the so-called sit-lie ban, which took effect in September with enthusiastic support from the city’s tourism industry. The prohibition initially only applied to Waikiki, but its coverage area has since expanded to include the city’s central business districts, including Chinatown, and other areas like Kaneohe and Wahiawa.

    But Caldwell said Thursday that the ban’s latest expansion under Bill 6 goes too far. The bill, he says, contains some “legally flawed language” that, if signed into law, would have made the city’s entire sit-lie ban vulnerable to court challenges.

    In its place, the mayor presented an alternative — “the legally defensible bill” endorsed by Corporation Counsel Donna Leong — and urged the City Council to pass it instead.

    “I continue to wholeheartedly support the intent and purpose of Honolulu’s recently adopted sit-lie Laws,” Caldwell wrote in his letter to the City Council.

    Mayor Kirk Caldwell explains his decision to veto the sit-lie ban expansion during a Thursday press conference.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Caldwell’s alternative proposal amends Bill 6 to make the ban applicable only to sidewalks and would exclude areas zoned for residential or noncommercial uses.

    But it largely keeps intact the ban’s expansion to the Kapalama Canal, where the number of homeless people have increased dramatically since the sit-lie ban took effect. More

  • Can Honolulu’s Sit-Lie Ban Pass Constitutional Muster?

    · By Rui Kaneya

    The makeshift tents and debris perched precariously on the banks of Kapalama Canal are partly blocked from the view of drivers on the H-1 freeway just a block away. But this rapidly expanding homeless encampment, located less than 2 miles from downtown Honolulu, is ground zero in the debate about the city’s mounting homeless problem.

    Only months ago, fewer than 20 worn-out tents dotted the 500-yard stretch between King Street and Dillingham Boulevard. There are more than 50 now.

    The growth is a telltale side effect of the city’s so-called sit-lie ban, based on a series of ordinances passed by the Honolulu City Council that prohibits people from sitting or lying on the city’s busiest sidewalks.

    The homeless encampment along the Kapalama Canal on Tuesday. It has grown dramatically in recent months.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    The aim of the ban — at least in its official telling — is to prod the homeless into shelters where they can receive needed services, a theory underpinning what Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell calls “compassionate disruption.” But, as Civil Beat recently reported, it has only pushed them out of the city’s central business districts and into less bustling areas, including the banks of the canal.

    “We just took a chance with the bill. That’s why it may be declared illegal. Maybe it’s not worth the legal trouble, but what else can we do?” — City Council member Ann Kobayashi

    In response, the City Council has been steadily expanding the ban’s coverage area — an approach

  • Mayor Caldwell Calls Off Kakaako Homeless Sweeps

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Mayor Kirk Caldwell is giving up on enforcing the city’s sidewalk nuisance and stored property ordinances in Kakaako, according to Hawaii News Now.

    The Caldwell administration has been aggressively enforcing the ordinances as part of the mayor’s “compassionate disruption” strategy, intended to prod the homeless into shelters where they can receive needed services.

    But now, Mileka Lincoln reports, Caldwell has concluded that such enforcement won’t do any good unless the city can give homeless people places to go. “It is very troubling. We have done enforcements in the past, but what happens is they just move onto other state property, stand there, let us clean everything up on the sidewalk, then we leave, and they move right back,” Caldwell said.

    The Honolulu Department of Facility Maintenance has spent nearly $1.9 million to enforce the ordinances, according to Lincoln.

    Tents line both sides of Olomehani Street in Kakaako near the Ohe Street intersection.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    As Civil Beat recently reported, since a series of the so-called sit-lie laws — also part of the “compassionate disruption” — was instituted by the city last year, it has triggered the encampments along Ohe and Olomehani streets in Kakaako to proliferate. On any given day, more than 100 tents can be found there.

    But the city is doubling down on the sit-lie ban. Last week, the City Council tweaked the ban, so that its boundary will, for the first time, cover outside of the city’s business districts — including portions of McCully, Aala, Punchbowl and

  • How Can ‘Housing First’ Work When the Housing Isn’t There?

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Just before 10 a.m., on a sunny Thursday in late April, Kehau Reeves was hanging out at her usual spot, near a picnic table at Kewalo Basin Park.

    An affable 44-year-old with her hair neatly tied in a ponytail, Reeves is one of the park’s regulars — for more than a year, she’s been camping out here in a small tent.

    To bring a semblance of normalcy to her life, she keeps her area clean and organized. She has her belongings tidily folded and arranged around her tent and on benches. When a nearby public restroom gets messy, she cleans it up.

    This way, Reeves can endure the vagaries of living hand to mouth. But the homeless life has taken its toll, and she’s desperate to get away from it. To start over, though, Reeves says she needs a roof over her head. “I need a foundation before I can do anything,” she said. “It’s hard to find work being in this situation.”

    In recent years, city and state officials have been trying to ramp up a program aimed at identifying chronically homeless people like Reeves and getting them quickly into permanent, supportive housing. Built around a guiding concept known as “Housing First,” it’s the centerpiece of Hawaii’s effort to combat homelessness, and similar programs have proven effective elsewhere.

    But, despite an infusion this year of more than $4 million in city and state funds into the program, Oahu’s homeless population is still growing.

    Kapeka Chun, an outreach worker at Kalihi-Palama Health Center,

  • More Federal Funds to End Homelessness Among Vets

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Hawaii will receive more than $1.2 million through a federal program to fight homelessness among veterans.

    The new injection of funds bolsters the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program — run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — that provides rental assistance and clinical services for homeless veterans.

    In Hawaii, the program is projected to help 110 vets this year.

    “This is an urgent issue that must be addressed with a multifaceted strategy, and $1.2 million in housing funding for Hawaii veterans is a helpful step in the right direction,” U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who served two tours of duty in the Middle East as a member of the Hawaii National Guard, said in a statement.

    Tents line the sidewalks at Ohe Street near Waterfront Park in Kakaako.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    The expansion of the HUD-VASH program is part of the national effort to eliminate the veterans homelessness by the end of the year — a goal President Barack Obama set in 2010.

    With the deadline fast approaching, Hawaii has a lot to work on. As Civil Beat recently reported, the HUD-VASH program isn’t finding traction in Hawaii’s tight rental housing market. The latest “point in time” count, which was released on Monday, bears that out: The number of homeless veterans in Oahu stood at 467, an increase of nearly 52 percent since 2009.

    You can read the full “point in time” count here:

    Oahu 2015 PIT report from

  • Housing Program for Homeless Veterans Hits a Snag in Hawaii

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Robert Ciano’s hip is in bad shape. He’s been trying to ignore it for years, but it’s at the point where he needs replacement surgery.

    But, for now, the 57-year-old Navy veteran is sitting at Starbucks near the former site of Naval Air Station Barbers Point, where he was stationed as an electronics technician from 1976 to 1982, and recounting his life since his Navy days. If his ailing hip is bothering him, he doesn’t show it.

    Ciano spent the better part of the last decade living out of his beige Chevy Blazer. For a long stretch, he managed to string together a series of small engineering jobs that earned him enough to eat and put gas in his SUV. It was a hand-to-mouth existence, but he got by. His hip troubles, for the most part, remained an afterthought.

    But the pain worsened gradually. It eventually became so much that he had to turn down most contract jobs that came his way. To make things worse, around Christmas, his car was broken into. His tools were all stolen.

    He knew then that it was the time for him to leave his homeless life behind and trade it in for a new one — one with permanent housing.

    But that’s easier said than done.

    According to the latest figures, based on a January 2014 “point in time” count, the number of homeless veterans in Hawaii has steadily increased during the past five years — from 411 in 2010 to 593 in 2014. That’s in part because the

  • WATCH: Civil Cafe on Honolulu Homelessness

    · By Gene Park

    If you missed our lively and sometimes heated Aug. 14 Civil Cafe on homelessness, watch the entire discussion as it was broadcast on Olelo Community Media.

    The panel included Colin Kippen, Hawaii homelessness coordinator; Jun Yang, Honolulu housing executive director; Jerry Coffee, Institute for Human Services clinical director; and Jason Espero, director of Care-A-Van for Waikiki Health Center.

    Reporter Chad Blair led the discussion for the first hour, while community manager Gene Park moderated the Q&A portion during the second hour. To skip right ahead to the Q&A session, click here.

    The event was also a fundraiser for Hale Kipa Inc., a nonprofit servicing homeless and at-risk youth. Hale Kipa raised more than $300 from in-person donations at the event, and some Civil Beat readers also contributed online. If you still would like to give to Hale Kipa, visit here.

    Read reporter Nathan Eagle’s recap of the discussion here.

  • Solutions Elusive at Lively Discussion on Homelessness in Hawaii

    · By Nathan Eagle

    “Until you’ve lost your dignity, you don’t understand homelessness.”

    That comment from a guest at Thursday night’s Civil Cafe discussion may be true, but it hasn’t stopped many people from trying to find a solution to a hardship that has afflicted thousands of people in Hawaii.

    More than 100 people gathered at Fresh Cafe in Kakaako to ask questions, demand action and listen to a panel of experts discuss an intractable and longstanding problem in the Aloha State.

    Tropical Storm Iselle highlighted the vulnerability of homeless people, like this man having breakfast near the closed entrance to Ala Moana Shopping Center on the morning when the storm hit.

    Cory Lum for Civil Beat

    On Oahu alone, more than 4,700 people are believed to be homeless, and the numbers are growing. Meanwhile, police are clearing out homeless encampments in parks under the guise of the mayor’s “compassionate disruption” policy and the islands suffer a severe shortage of affordable housing. 

    But as several people pointed out during the lively two-plus hour talk, moderated by Civil Beat’s Gene Park and Chad Blair, the issue is about more than disputable and hard-to-pin-down statistics. It’s about human lives and how society responds to those most in need.

    The panel included Colin Kippen, Hawaii homelessness coordinator; Jun Yang, Honolulu housing executive director; Jerry Coffee, Institute for Human Services clinical director; and Jason Espero, director of Care-A-Van for Waikiki Health Center. 

    They took turns fielding tough questions — and pointed

  • Civil Cafe on Aug. 14 — Hawaii Homelessness: Paradise Lost?

    · By Gene Park

    Of all the ills Hawaii faces, homelessness has been among the most persistent. On Oahu alone, about 4,700 people are homeless.

    It’s an issue that encompasses a host of other problems — the high cost of living, the widening gap in income, access to housing, budgetary concerns and civil liberties. It’s also a highly visible issue, unfolding on the streets of Waikiki — where homeless are chased from parks every night — and at Honolulu Hale, where City Council members often clash with Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

    On Thursday, Aug 14, at 6 p.m., Civil Beat will host a Civil Cafe focusing on what’s being done and what needs to be done.

    Join us as we talk to four key players in solving Hawaii homelessness:

    Colin Kippen, Hawaii Coordinator on Homelessness
    Jun Yang, Honolulu Executive Director of Housing
    Joy Rucker, Waikiki Health Center Director of Community Services
    Jerry Coffee, The Institute for Human Services Clinical Director

    The discussion will take place at Fresh Cafe in Kakaako, 831 Queen St. It will be livestreamed on our website, and broadcast on Channel 54 through our partner, Olelo Community Media.

    Hale Kipa is a nonprofit organization that serves at-risk and homeless youth in Hawaii.

    If you have questions for our panel, you can ask them in person at the event, or hashtag #CivilCafe on Twitter, or email

    Civil Beat will use this discussion as an opportunity to raise funds for Hale Kipa, a nonprofit that has served more than 30,000 homeless and at-risk youth in Hawaii for over 40 years. For those

  • Honolulu Risks Losing Millions on Affordable Housing Projects

    · By Nick Grube

    Plenty of companies are interested in taking over the city’s housing complexes, but might expect a fire sale.

  • Did Honolulu’s $142M Housing Deal Collapse?

    · By Nick Grube

    Questions by Honolulu City Council members raise doubts about developers’ ability to seal deal before 2014 deadline.

  • Caldwell Fears For Honolulu Homeless If City Housing Deal Collapses

    · By Nick Grube

    UPDATED Honolulu City Council is considering killing $142 million plan to sell 12 affordable housing complexes.

  • Pritchett: The Vigilante With a Sledgehammer

    · By John Pritchett

    State Rep. Tom Brower has been taking a misguided swing at homelessness. Fortunately, he’s thought better of it.

  • Is Honolulu City Council Targeting the Homeless in Latest Sidewalk Proposal?

    · By Manjari Fergusson

    UPDATED Bill’s backers say businesses need help keeping sidewalks clear for commerce.

  • Hawaii Homeless Will Have to Find Their Own Ride Back to Mainland

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Department of Human Services rejects $100,000 plan Hawaii Legislature approved to buy plane tickets.