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Homeless rights and rights of the public are at odds

Confronting Homelessness

Maui is one of the most beautiful islands in the world. I love driving around Maui. But lately, it is difficult to ignore a few places that take away from that beauty. The places I am referring to are homeless encampments. We need to ask ourselves — is this what we want for our community? I cannot speak for anyone else, but I want to be able to take my grandchildren to the beach and walk with them on public sidewalks without worrying about their safety or stepping around filth. In 2019, I wrote about this, the column can be found at www.mauinews.com/opinion/columns/2019/03/consider-oahus-example-for-homeless-who-refuse-services/.

You may not be aware that there are people who say that the homeless have the right to live on a sidewalk or at the public beach parks. The sad thing is these rights directly oppose the rights of the public to have clean and safe neighborhoods. It is like a game show gone wrong called “Whose Right is it Anyway!”

The mayor of San Diego, Kevin Faulconer, took a stand in his community when he said that the city must balance compassion with the enforcement of public-safety laws. Faulconer stated, “If you are living out of your vehicle because you have nowhere else to go, we want to help you . . . At the same time, residents and businesses have a right to clean and safe neighborhoods. We will not allow conduct that takes advantage of San Diego’s generosity and destroys the quality of life in our communities.” This can be found at www.city-journal.org/political-ground-shifting-in-americas-bluest-cities.

One of my greatest fears for Maui is that these homeless encampments will continue and we will become more like the Tenderloin area of San Francisco or downtown Los Angeles. The Daily News reported:  “In Los Angeles, local and state governments have stopped enforcing basic laws that are on the books to protect public health and safety. So we have lawlessness in the form of Wild-West shantytowns, strewn with garbage, that line our sidewalks, streets, hillsides, freeways, storm channels, bike paths and public plazas. The city hall became infested with disease-carrying fleas. They rode in on the rats that have proliferated throughout the area, drawn by the encampments and the mounds of trash.” This can be found at www.dailynews.com/2019/02/12/when-l-a-s-homelessness-crisis-devolves-into-lawlessness/.  

Is this what we want for Maui?

Mental illness is also a contributor, and many of the mentally ill do not have the mental capacity to take care of themselves or have the ability to reason logically. However, the homeless who are mentally ill have the right to refuse services and medication which seems to be the opposite of protecting their right to safety.  

My husband and children may not fully agree with me on this, but I can positively say that at this moment, I am of sound mind. But what if something happened and that was no longer true? I would hope that if I became mentally ill and started living on the street, that someone would love me enough to make the hard decisions and force me to live somewhere safe! Even if I am kicking and screaming and saying no, they will love me enough and take the necessary action to prevent me from being a threat to myself or others which will ultimately protect me from the victimization that comes with homelessness. The problem being, if I have the right to refuse services, how can anyone protect me when I am most vulnerable? 

Do I believe that the homeless have rights? Yes, of course, they do! As community members, they have the same rights as everyone else has, the right to live in a safe environment. Living the homeless lifestyle is not a safe or healthy way to live and living in this manner is in direct opposition to their rights as well as the rights of all community members to a clean and safe community.  

* Joyce Kawakami is a full-time volunteer, founder, and CEO of Feed My Sheep Inc. As an active member of the Maui Homeless Alliance, she chairs the Awareness Committee. The Alliance meets on the third Wednesday of the month. 

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