ACLU Complaint Leads to Change in Sand Island Shelter Rules

City reverses course, says that survivors of domestic violence and persons with mental illness may access shelter

Honolulu – In response to a complaint from the ACLU of Hawai‘i and the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, the City and County of Honolulu (“City”) has reversed course on discriminatory rules at the proposed Sand Island homeless facility.  Contrary to its prior plan, the City has now agreed that individuals fleeing from domestic violence or coming from a mental health facility may seek refuge at the facility, eliminating discriminatory practices that violated federal and state law.

ACLU of Hawai‘i Legal Director Daniel Gluck said, “As Hawai‘i observes National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and considering the extra vulnerabilities of domestic violence survivors also experiencing homelessness or extreme poverty, the City’s reconsideration of this policy is especially timely.

The Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, among other federal and state laws, prohibit housing discrimination against women, who make up the vast majority of domestic violence survivors, and people with mental health disabilities. Given that mental illness and domestic violence are often contributing factors leading to homelessness, these persons equally deserve access to City programs offering housing and services.”

“Cities should extend housing supports to domestic violence survivors, rather than compound their trauma by denying emergency shelter,” said Sandra Park, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project.

This is not the first time that the City agreed to change discriminatory policies in response to an ACLU complaint. Earlier this year, the City modified plans for its “Housing First” program with the Institute for Human Services, which originally sought to deny services to homeless persons who had recently arrived in Hawai‘i. The ACLU alerted the City that these exclusions would violate the Constitution (because government services must be available equally to all legal residents, regardless of when they arrived), and the City modified the policy to ensure equal access to all homeless individuals.