Hawai‘i Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Unhoused Individuals in Maui Encampment Sweep

After a two year process, the Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruled recently in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Hawai‘i, which represented unhoused residents in Maui whose property was destroyed by Maui County employees in a 2021 encampment sweep (see Memo 1/16). While the March 5 ruling does not repair the harm done to the impacted individuals, it nevertheless affirms their constitutional rights to due process and their property interest in possessions kept in a public space. Maui County officials do not plan to appeal the case and will instead review their policies to ensure they respect the rights of all Maui citizens. The ACLU is celebrating this win as the latest favorable ruling against policies in western states aiming to clear out encampments and other tactics that punish people who are experiencing homelessness.

While advocates for the unhoused residents are dismayed the ruling did not garner more media attention, they are reassured that residents’ voices were heard. Share Your Mana played a crucial role in educating, organizing, and empowering the unhoused residents to assert their rights leading up to the sweep. As the affordable housing and houseless crisis on Maui escalates in the aftermath of the 2023 wildfires, organizers with Share Your Mana continue to provide compassionate services for unhoused people to meet their most basic needs while also pushing for systems-level changes. They hope the ruling will protect the rights of others who will likely be forced to live through future encampment sweeps.

“This ruling reinforces that current county and state responses are not only unconstitutional, but they also fail and harm the residents through criminalization and not proactive approaches,” said Lisa Darcy, founder of Share Your Mana. “We have the ability to achieve health and safety for all without violating civil rights. The agencies simply need to redesign how they approach the recovery process.”

Due to the legacy of colonization and ongoing discrimination, Native Hawaiians disproportionately experience houselessness compared to non-Native people. This makes Native Hawaiians more likely to be harmed by state and local policies that seek to punish and criminalize people who are unhoused, which are emerging across the country as the nation fails to enact the long-term solutions needed to end the housing crisis. Rulings such as the Maui case set a precedent to uphold the constitutional rights and dignity of unhoused people. Advocates hope this ruling will bolster another case the ACLU brought against Honolulu’s houseless policies, which is scheduled to go to trial in October. The case, Mahelona v. City and County of Honolulu, alleges that local “anti-houseless” laws – such as a camping ban and stored property ordinance – violate the state’s prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment. The Honolulu case mirrors arguments made in April at the U.S. Supreme Court in Grants Pass v. Johnson. The Supreme Court ruling is expected in June and will likely have an impact on the Honolulu case and others like it.

To learn more about Grants Pass v. Johnson, policy solutions proven to end homelessness, and how advocates can push back against state and local policies that punish people for experiencing homelessness, please review NLIHC’s toolkit.