Updated: December 2, 2022
The Hawai’i Supreme Court decided Thursday to hear a lawsuit challenging the legality of a September 2021 “sweep” that Maui County officials conducted of a houseless encampment near Kanahā Beach Park.
The lawsuit, filed in October 2021 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaiʻi on behalf of several residents who lived at encampment, challenges Maui officials’ decision to conduct the sweep, arguing it was done without providing adequate due process. It alleges that the County violated residents’ constitutional rights to notice and an opportunity to be heard before encampment residents were evicted and their property was seized and destroyed.
The County of Maui conducted the cleanup in September, at one point announcing progress in the removal of 58 tons of solid waste, and 54 derelict vehicles. Initial reports indicate area occupants were offered accommodations and services ahead of the cleanup. The effort included visits by social workers and service providers.
“Social service agencies completed intense personal outreach in the area during the weeks leading up to the cleanup to ensure that individual concerns were taken into consideration. Many of the men and women that were contacted were born and raised here on Maui, and they certainly deserve to live in safer, more sanitary conditions,” according to a county video produced after the cleanup.
The plaintiffs argued that the notice to vacate did not have information on how residents could retrieve property, or what procedures were available to challenge the sweep.
Kia‘i Pu‘uhonua O Kanahā, an all-volunteer advocacy group was formed in response to the situation, saying their efforts were in support of the encampment community and the local nonprofit Share Your Mana, which has served as a longtime advocate as well.
In March of this year, the Second Circuit Court ruled in favor of houseless residents, concluding that “here, constitutional due process required a contested case hearing before [Maui County] conducted the Kanahā Sweep.” The County has appealed that decision.
This week, the Hawai’i Supreme Court granted the ACLU’s request to transfer the appeal to the State’s highest judicial forum.
On hearing the news, Kanahā plaintiff Sonia Davis, said, “I’m grateful. This makes me feel like there really are people out there who care about what we go through living on the streets.”
Lisa Darcy of Share Your Mana, who has worked alongside the Kanahā community as a houseless advocate said, “The opportunity for the plaintiffs to be heard by the Supreme Court honors the gravity of their situation. This space is an opportunity to create a safer and a more equitable future for every person, regardless of housing status.”
“We hope the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court rejects Maui County’s stunning argument that houseless people forfeit their constitutional rights simply because they live in public spaces. Constitutional due process does not turn on whether one is housed in a structure with four walls and a roof,” said ACLU of Hawaiʻi Legal Director Wookie Kim.