(BIVN) – Following a recent letter of demand sent by the ACLU of Hawaiʻi, Mayor Mitch Roth defended his administration’s approach to handling homeless encampments in County parks, and denounced the use of the term “sweep” to describe recent enforcement operations.
The ACLU wrote the letter after learning that the May 24th “Hale Hālāwai Sweep is just the first in a series of enforcement actions that the County intends to execute against houseless people within the County, including an upcoming sweep planned for June 7, 2023 near the Kona Community Aquatic Center and other locations across Hawaiʻi Island “, and demanded the Mayor put a halt to future actions “until adequate shelter or safe spaces are designated.”
Mayor Roth responded to the ACLU and on Tuesday shared this media release:
Hawaiʻi County officials issued a response today to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Hawaiʻi regarding concerns raised in a letter about the constitutional rights of homeless community members. The letter referenced a parks’ rules enforcement operation that took place at Hale Hālāwai Beach Park on May 24, 2023.
In the response to Wookie Kim, Legal Director of the ACLU of Hawaiʻi, the County emphasized its commitment to a balanced approach that considers the well-being of both the homeless population and the general public. The comprehensive operation, conducted on May 24, involved collaborative efforts and resources from various organizations, including the County of Hawaiʻi Department of Parks & Recreation, Hawaiʻi Police Department, Office of Housing and Community Development, West Hawaiʻi Community Health Center, Care Hawaiʻi – Mental Health and Crisis Outreach, HOPE Services – Shelter Outreach, and 808 Homeless Taskforce.
Prior to the enforcement action, a two-week outreach program was initiated, which led to the identification of twenty-three (23) individuals experiencing homelessness at Hale Hālāwai. During the outreach, these individuals were informed about the upcoming park enforcement action, offered temporary storage solutions for their personal property, and provided access to homeless support services.
Mayor Roth clarified the administration’s approach to members of his cabinet, stating, “our administration is not conducting forced homeless sweeps. We are compassionately enforcing park rules with the assistance of numerous human service organizations, who are there to provide vital resources to those affected by the enforcement efforts. Ensuring the safety of our parks for everyone, including our children, elders, local families, and employees, is our priority. We have a responsibility to address unsafe conditions within the extent permissible by law.”
The response further explained that on May 24, only ten (10) individuals experiencing homelessness remained at Hale Hālāwai. All ten individuals received assistance, including temporary or long-term housing options, and, in some cases, arranged flights to reunite with their families.
Most importantly, no citations or arrests were made among the remaining individuals on that day.
While the option of storing personal property was emphasized, none of the individuals chose to utilize this service. As a result, all unclaimed property was removed from the park, and a significant two tons of rubbish were adequately disposed of.
The response states that the County recognizes its responsibility to maintain the health and safety of its parks for the enjoyment of all residents and visitors.
The Roth Administration maintains that efforts to assist homeless individuals will continue through close collaboration with on-island service providers.
In closing, the County reiterated its commitment to ensuring public safety in its parks while addressing the needs of homeless community members and encouraged open dialogue with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on this critical matter.