UH study says homeless sweeps are harmful


While Honolulu’s new sit-lie ban continues to be hashed out between lawmakers, a new study by the University of Hawaii shows homeless sweeps do more harm than good.

Researchers spent weeks talking to homeless encampments in Kapalama, Kakaako and Aala.

They found that the people living there suffer property and economic loss, physical and psychological harm, and possible constitutional violations.

According to the research, homeless sweeps have no effect on the majority of people who were interviewed. Twenty-one percent were less likely to seek shelter and only 11 percent said they were more likely to seek shelter after a homeless sweep.

“It’s not part of an effective, comprehensive plan to solve homelessness,” said Kathryn Xian with the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery. “In fact, it works against people trying to leave poverty.”

“Sooner or later, our homeless need to go someplace. They need to move. They cannot stay there forever,” said Chu Lan Shubert-Kwock, president of the Chinatown Business and Community Association.

The study also found that during these sweeps, personal and important belongings are confiscated and sometimes not returned. Fifty-seven percent told researchers their IDs were taken, 43 percent clothing and 40 percent tents.

“Now these identification documents are required for applying to housing, getting benefits, opening a bank account, getting a job, so if you’re a social services provider like us, you find it very prohibitive,” Xian said.

“Until they recognize that they need help, they’re going to hang around and it’s going to be more of a burden for the community,” Shubert-Kwock said.

UH officials who conducted the study offered recommendations with the long-term goal of ending homelessness: suspend sweeps until adequate shelter and services are available, place a moratorium on the expansion of sit-lie bans until further investigation on its effects on the homeless is done, conduct a formal investigation of homeless complaints and give seven business days advance notice when sweeps are conducted.

“Let’s house these people. Let’s focus funding on housing first and expanding housing first,” Xian said.

“It’s very unsanitary. It’s not good. You cannot just set up camp where you like. There are rules and laws that protect everyone,” Shubert-Kwock said.

KHON2 reached out to the mayor, who vetoed the sit-lie law expansion, but his office had no comment until they take a closer look at the study.Click here to view the study in its entirety online.

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