Measure would ensure homeless rights

homeless feb 23-1

Published on Feb. 23, 2015.
Published on Feb. 23, 2015.

As the number of people living without a home in Hawai‘i continues to increase, a state representative is proposing a bill that would establish a bill of rights for homeless people.

“The system is broken and the county and the state really need to come together with the homeless advocates on finding the correct formula to deal humanely with the homeless,” state Rep. John Mizuno said in a phone interview.

House Bill 1322 (HB 1322) calls for each homeless person in the state to have rights such as being able to move freely in public spaces, have equal opportunities for employment, receive equal treatment by state and county officials and freely accept or deny shelter or services from any state or county agency.

Rights for the homeless

Mizuno had introduced this bill in the previous legislative session where it received mostly negative responses. One area of concern was homeless people sitting or lying on public sidewalks.

“You have law enforcement saying, ‘Well, how can I do my job if someone is laying on the sidewalk, blocking the sidewalk?’ My answer’s ‘No, well if someone is blocking the sidewalk, remove him or her.’ I mean that’s understood. But we do it humanely,” Mizuno said.

In December, the City and County of Honolulu passed a sit-lie ban that prohibited homeless from sitting or lying on public sidewalks in areas zoned for commercial and business activities.

Mizuno said his main goal is to start a conversation about how the homeless are treated.

“My message was I’m not saying we’re going to pass this [HB 1322] into law, but we certainly need the discussion and we need to try to formulate a way where the police, the county, state officials, homeless advocates can all come to the table and humanely deal with the issue of homelessness not only in Honolulu but throughout our state,” he said.

State Homeless Coordinator Colin Kippen believes this year’s bill codifies rights that are already protected in the federal and state constitutions. He supports a conversation about what’s being done in regards to criminalizing the  homeless.

“Criminalizing people who are homeless has no positive effect on any homelessness,” Kippen said in a phone interview. “My job is to end homelessness, and so what I have committed myself to do is those positive things that will cause homelessness to be reduced and eventually eliminated.”

Homeless in Hawai‘i

According to a 2014 report compiled by the state’s Homeless Programs Office and city Department of Community Services, the number of homeless people on O‘ahu has increased by 3.42 percent from the previous year, while Kaua‘i and Maui counties each saw increases of about nine percent. Hawai‘i island saw a 56 percent increase.

According to Kippen, part of this increase has to do with Hawai‘i’s hospitable climate. He added that climate does affect when people choose to come off the streets or make other arrangements, such as in colder cities where it snows in the winter.

Another factor, he said, is the cost of living in the state. According to a July 2014 report by the Hawai‘i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice Policy, the average rents in the state increased by 45 percent between 2005 and 2012 while average wages only increased by 21 percent over the same period.

Getting homeless off the streets

However, giving homeless people rights may take a backseat to providing housing if a new state program is implemented.

“We’re moving to try to really understand the needs of the people who are homeless,” Kippen said. “And we’re moving from what could have been termed a treatment first model to a housing first model.”

Under the prevailing system, which has been in place in the state and across the nation for about 40 to 50 years, homeless people would first need to get well before being eligible to be moved into a more permanent housing situation.

First, a homeless person would go into an emergency shelter and if he or she does well, that person would move into a transitional shelter before being moved into more permanent housing.

“It’s almost like if you could imagine a waterfall and salmon that’s trying to swim up the waterfall,” Kippen said. “What the data here tells us and across the country is that there are many individuals, salmon, who are not strong enough to swim up that river. And what we need to do is stabilize them as quickly as we can by providing them with housing and then providing the level of services they require to stay in housing and to change their life for good.”

Implementing a new system

While this system has not been fully implemented in the state, a common intake and assessment process is currently being executed as a pilot on O‘ahu to help triage the homeless into the levels of housing and support services they will need.

Utah is one state that has worked with a housing first initiative. The state started using this initiative in 2005 as the basis of its 10 year plan to end chronic homelessness, and has since seen a 72 percent decrease among chronic homeless thanks to this approach, according to Utah’s 2014 Comprehensive Report on Homelessness. This initiative provides housing first rather than sobriety or other steps being taken prior to receiving housing.

Until now, each service provider had a different way of figuring out who got what services, Kippen said.

“I want to be able to say in the Mānoa-Makiki area, how many chronically homeless people do I have? I can figure that out now because the surveys that we are doing are giving us that kind of information,” he said.

Through this assessment process, the state would be able to see who requires rapid re-housing, who requires short-term housing and who requires more permanent housing and support.

Those that require rapid rehousing would probably require housing support for three to nine months, according to Kippen, as well as some support in terms of counseling, job hunting or resume writing to become stabilized and move into a more permanent housing situation.

Those that require short-term housing are high performing but had some crisis occur, such as a family fight that ended with a member being kicked out of the house. Once that problem is alleviated, such as through connections being rebuilt, the person would go back to the way he or she was living.

Many of those that require permanent housing are those who are chronically homeless, which the 2014 Homeless Service Utilization Report defines as adults who have a disabling health or mental condition and who have been homeless for at least one year or have had at least four homeless episodes in the past three years.

According to Kippen, providing the services while being housed works versus providing services while a person is still living on the streets.

“You’re providing the services to them when they’re the most stable that they’ve ever been because living on the streets is extremely unstable,” he said.

It will likely take several years to bring this housing first system online, according to Kippen.

Homeless on campus 

In the past week, two incidents concerning homeless people were reported to the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Department of Public Safety.

On Feb. 15, a sexual assault was reported to DPS where a man who appeared to be homeless grabbed a female student several times. The incident occurred near Beretania Street and University Avenue.

Later that day, a man who appeared to be homeless approached a UH employee outside of Kuykendall Hall and asked for his wallet. When the employee declined, the man fled towards Dole Street.

According to DPS Community Programs Manager Sarah Rice, DPS documents behavior, not homelessness.

“When someone is following the rules on campus and they’re in an area that they’re not supposed to be or in an area after hours where they’re not supposed to be, then we treat them just the same as any other person,” she said.


University updates policy on sexual assault, harassment

Published on Feb. 11, 2015.

As a result of the 2013 re-authorization of Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) amending the law that requires higher education institutions to  disclose information about crime on and around their campuses, the university updated its policy on sexual assault and harassment.

According to Mie Watanabe , director of the system Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action office, the old policy, which was created in 2006, was based on the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy & Campus Crime Statistics Act, which requires universities to report crimes that happen on and around their campuses.

“(The policy is) different from other schools; most of the schools’ policies cover one campus,” she said in a phone interview.

Giving guidance

According to Watanabe, the updated policy gives guidance to each of the campuses, saying what the bottom line is under the VAWA and Title IX.

The policy’s purpose is to “prohibit  sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence,  and stalking and to provide guidance to Chancellors and other  administrators who are responsible for developing and implementing  accessible campus procedures and prevention programs for students and  employees.”

According to an email sent by the Office of the University of Hawai‘i President, this policy reaffirms UH’s commitment to ensuring a safe environment across all  campuses and having zero tolerance for gender violence and harassment. It also incorporates the Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the VAWA, among other state statutes.

Under this policy, each campus is required to implement educational and prevention programs that inform the university community about policies, resources and options in regards to sexual assault, harassment, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking, in addition to implement accessible prompt and equitable procedures for students and employees and corrective actions the campuses will take.

As required by VAWA, the policy now includes definitions of criminal sexual offenses such as those for affirmative consent, dating violence, domestic violence, indecent exposure, retaliation, sexual assault, sexual harassment, sexual violence and stalking.

Campus programs and procedures

According to the updated policy, campus chancellors or their designees must “implement educational programs,  provide Title IX & VAWA notice to students and employees, provide  written information on resources and complaint options, and implement a  protocol for responding to reports of sexual harassment and sexual  violence.” The campuses are also required to implement student conduct procedures and administrative complaint investigations.

The policy also mandates that each campus select an individual to serve as Title IX coordinator who would oversee the campus’s response to Title IX reports/complaints and identify and address any patterns or systemic problem.

Currently, seven out of the 10 campuses have Title IX coordinators, according to the university’s website.

The 2006 policy

The 2006 policy provided guidance for the campuses regarding compliance with the Clery Act.

According to the Federal Register, the re-authorization of the VAWA issued amendments to the Clery Act on Oct. 20, 2014.

The amendments required institutions to maintain statistics about the number of incidents of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking, devise the definition of rape to reflect the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) updated definition in the UCR Summary Reporting System and provide, and describe in their annual security reports, ongoing prevention and awareness campaigns for institution constituents, among others.

Debate team returns after international competition

Published on Jan. 26, 2015.

The campus Debate and Forensics Society (DFS) came home from winter break ranking in the top half of the world championship for debating universities.

The two pairs of student debaters and one student judge competed against more than 100 universities at the World Universities Debating Championship (WUDC) in Malaysia, according to senior bioengineering major and DFS captain Samira Fatemi.

“I’m proud of our performance as a team,” DFS secretary Laura Ramirez said in an email interview. “We managed to go through a grueling competition without hating debate or hating each other. The debates were about a huge range of topics from Syria to ‘moral enhancing drugs.’ The motions that we debate are only revealed 15 minutes ahead of time, so going to a competition like this provided me with constant opportunities to learn and think about topics I might not have contemplated otherwise.”

One team, composed of Fatemi and DFS founder Daniel Hugo, ranked 147 out of 374 teams. The other team, DFS treasurer Justin Bongco and Ramirez, ranked 207.


According to its website, the WUDC took place from Dec. 27 to Jan. 4.

Each year, different institutions and countries that are selected by the World Universities Debating Council host the competition.

The competition featured nine, one hour-long rounds, according to Fatemi. The debaters were given their topics, which included global warming and how to address climate change and education in areas of socioeconomic deprivation, approximately 15 minutes prior to the beginning of each round.

Each team would then be assigned to give an argument against or in support of the topic and would have 15 minutes to give its argument.

According to senior finance major Bongco, debaters must read materials and articles on world affairs prior to arriving to the tournament or it’s too late.

“You’re not allowed any Internet access,” Fatemi said. “So it’s basically your brain and any printed material you wanted to bring. And from there you just talk about like what is the main issue here, what are the strongest arguments for or against this and you go from there.”

The competition was based on the British Parliamentary style of debating, according to its website.

“I think the biggest goal of that style of debate is to show that there’s more than just two sides to every story,” Fatemi said. “Instead of just your regular pro versus con, you have two teams of two debaters for each side. So you would have four pro speakers and then four con speakers, but they don’t work together.”

She added that the teams are supposed to represent coalition governments.

“You’re a coalition, but you still want your arguments to be more persuasive than your other team on your side,” she said. “So it’s like you want to be consistent with each other but you also want to outrank each other too.”

What makes a good argument, according to Bongco, is nuance and detail.

“What they mean by nuance is your arguments are well qualified and use the correct modality,” he said. “And what that means is rather than saying this will hurt everybody, you would say, the more nuanced thing would say: This would hurt a certain people and a certain part of this city because of these reasons. And it’s basically providing very nuanced, very detailed versions of arguments, rather than having kind of broad, general versions.”


DFS member Coel Oshiro, a junior English major, attended the competition as the team’s judge and moderated other teams’ debates.

As a judge, he was required to be an informed observer – acting like a normal citizen who has a holistic understanding of current events and political issues but isn’t a specialist in a particular field.

“With the Worlds tournament, especially just in the realm of public debate you always want to reward the team that has the most consistent, logical and rhetorically convincing argument and not necessarily the team that has the most charisma and other potentially negative things like gender bias,” he said.

This was his first international competition, so he started it as a trainee judge.

This meant he sat on a judging committee that had one chair judge — someone who is very experienced about how debating works — and two wing judges but didn’t participate in the final vote.

“So you’re really just watching the wings and the chairs and what are they doing, how are they taking notes, how are they ranking or organizing their ratings of the arguments being posed,” he said. “So it’s just really just experiential learning.”

He was promoted after the first couple of rounds once the judges said he was qualified to serve as a wing judge.

At the competition, he was able to see teams from prestigious universities with intensive debate programs, such as those at Harvard University and Oxford.

“The fact is, and I think this is the most important thing to take away from not only world but from debate in general is that as a debater or as any public speaker, you’re wooing immense power to influence a huge number of people, and so when you have that great responsibility placed on you, you have to make sure that everything about the way you speak, everything about the way you carry yourself influences people in a positive way that engenders reform and change and positive reform,” he said.


According to its website, DFS has been active since its founding in 2008 with a mission to “provide the university with a forum to develop students’ argumentative abilities through good-spirited competition and to engender active and sophisticated participation in educational, professional and civic dialogue.”

“It’s an excellent place to generate these civilized, political discourse about some of the most pressing issues that we’re dealing with,” Oshiro said.

The registered independent organization currently has about 14 active members, Fatemi said, adding that there are no major or previous debating experience required to join.

DFS participates in about two tournaments a semester, one of which is held on campus. The group also tries to go to one additional one that may be off-island.

Next up for DFS is to attend the 2015 U.S. Universities Debating Championship that will be held in Anchorage, Alaska in April.