Honolulu hit with lawsuit filed by ACLU over homeless camp sweeps

Kionina Kaneso doesn't have much in the 18-foot shack on a Honolulu sidewalk she calls home, but she's grateful for her furniture and propane stove. When city crews allegedly threw out her belongings last year during a sweep on a homeless encampment, it hit her and her family hard.

"They throw away my stuff. My food, my drink, my clothes, blankets and my granddaughter's toys," said Kaneso, 58, who lives with her 3-year-old granddaughter in one of the largest homeless encampments in the nation.

Kaneso is part of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union Hawaii Wednesday against the city of Honolulu, which claims that city officials deprived homeless people of food and other belongings during raids on encampments.

The attorneys filed the lawsuit on behalf of families who are or were homeless who say they lost medication, identification documents and valuable belongings in the sweeps. The ACLU is seeking a court order to halt future sweeps and compensation for clients whose property has been destroyed.

City crews are planning to enforce the stored property ordinance in a stretch of streets in Kakaako on Thursday, and the lawsuit hasn't changed those plans, city officials said.

"The Department of the Corporation Counsel will defend the city in this lawsuit vigorously," said Donna Leong, Honolulu corporation counsel, in the statement.

The lawsuit involves the stored property ordinance, which requires the city to give 24 hours of notice before seizing property and to store it so people can retrieve belongings for a $200 fee, but the suit says city crews in some instances just threw tents and household goods in the trash.

Several children, identified by just their initials, were listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which says they have gone hungry after city raids where food stored by their parents was thrown out.

"You're talking about a community with almost no access to justice, so we're really happy that the ACLU has taken the time and spent the money to investigate further," said Kathryn Xian, executive director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery.