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The City and County of Honolulu announced Wednesday it has prevailed in its legal fight against a preliminary injunction the American Civil Liberties Union Hawaii brought last year over the city’s use of homeless sweeps.

First Circuit Judge John M. Tonaki denied the ACLU’s prior motion for the injunction, which allows the city to continue to enforce “essential public safety measures without impediment,” a city statement reads.

In August, the ACLU’s motion for the injunction argued the city’s actions constitute cruel or unusual punishment under the Hawaii Constitution and should therefore cease immediately via court order.

The ACLU could not be reached for immediate comment over the judge’s ruling.

For his part, Mayor Rick Blangiardi hailed the court decision as a victory for the public.

“We are extremely pleased with the court’s decision to deny the preliminary injunction and uphold our public welfare laws,” Blangiardi said in a written statement. “These measures are essential to maintaining the safety and security of our community, and we remain steadfast in our dedication to protecting the welfare of all our residents.”

According to the city, the contested laws, designed to protect the well-being of the community, were challenged on constitutional grounds by the ACLU in an effort to stop the city from enforcing ordinances and state statutes related to park closure hours, sidewalk nuisances, stored property on public property, sitting and lying in certain locations and during certain hours, trespass laws, and other public welfare laws.

In October, the city’s Corporation Counsel opposed the injunction, contending the ACLU mischaracterized the city’s enforcement actions, including those by the Honolulu Police Department.

In a 155-page memorandum, the city cited instances when members of the public — from keiki to kupuna, families to church groups, small to large businesses, and others — were adversely affected by the actions of homeless people living in city-owned parks, playgrounds or sidewalks and who engage in criminal activities including drugs and violence or leave garbage and human waste behind.

“The city combats the homeless crisis through a comprehensive and compassionate strategy that is distinct from its enforcement of the public welfare laws,” the city’s legal response stated. “This strategy involves strengthening the homeless crisis response system, integrating healthcare, building career pathways to exit homelessness, providing housing, and engaging in homeless prevention and diversion.”

In October, Jongwook “Wookie” Kim, legal director for ACLU Hawaii, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the city’s legal response to his group’s claim was “disappointing.”

He added the injunction sought by the ACLU “does not tie the city’s hands to enforce a whole variety of public welfare and public safety laws” allowing people suspected of committing property crimes or violent crimes to be arrested by law enforcement.

But Kim noted the ACLU’s actions against the city are not over as the preliminary injunction only added to the organization’s initial lawsuit, which argues the city’s homeless sweeps violate the rights of homeless people under the state constitution.

Filed by the ACLU and the California-based civil rights law firm of Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian &Ho, the initial lawsuit names five homeless people as plaintiffs but also aims to protect Oahu’s more than 2,300 estimated unsheltered individuals.

The lawsuit asks for no monetary award.

Meanwhile, the Blangiardi administration says it will continue to “prioritize solutions to the homelessness issue on a daily basis.”

“I have said repeatedly that being homeless is not a crime,” the mayor’s statement reads. “We must treat everyone with respect and empathy. This administration is committed to exploring alternative solutions, such as increasing affordable housing and expanding support services. This decision strikes the perfect balance between our efforts to resolve our homeless issues and the rights of our residents to safe and equal access to public spaces free of obstructions and personal effects.”

The city further notes that even while ACLU’s lawsuit proceeds “the city will continue to vigorously defend against its claims.”

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