HONOLULU (Reuters) - Facing criticism for his novel approach to Hawaii’s homeless problem, state lawmaker Tom Brower says he has put away the sledgehammer he was using to smash stolen or abandoned shopping carts used by the dispossessed to carry their belongings.
Brower, a Democrat whose district includes the beach-front tourist destination of Waikiki on the island of Oahu, has by his own estimate disabled about 30 shopping carts in a highly publicized campaign to crack down on the area’s homeless.
“I got tired of telling people, ‘I’m trying to pass laws.’ I wanted to do something practical, that will really clean up the streets,” he said in an interview broadcast by joint TV stations KGMB and KHNL, which also aired video of him smashing abandoned carts with a sledgehammer.
“I find abandoned junk, specifically shopping carts, and I remove them,” he said. “It creates a situation where those carts can’t be pushed around the city. I think it’s a good thing.”
The spectacle of Brower stalking the streets with a sledgehammer and swinging it from his heels as he pounded on the push carts brought a cascade of criticism, especially from advocates of the homeless who called his actions extreme and mean-spirited.
By Wednesday, he was changing his tune. “I guess I shouldn’t use the sledgehammer, because it’s a really loaded image,” the legislator, 48, told the TV stations.
Marya Grambs, executive director of Mental Health America of Hawaii, said she was relieved.
“It was such a horrible example of vigilantism and terrorizing people who are the most vulnerable,” she said.
Grambs was part of an email and telephone campaign that lobbied Brower, serving in the state House of Representatives since 2006, and others in the state Legislature, pressing him to put away his hammer.
Hawaii ranks as having the highest per capita rate of homelessness of any state - about 45 out of every 10,000 people in 2012, the most recent year for which such figures were available, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Hawaii’s homeless population is particularly visible along the roads leading into Waikiki and within the tourist district itself, with beach parks serving as a popular encampment spot for people who might otherwise be living on the street.
Homeless advocates say Hawaii’s mix of high housing costs and fair weather combined to amplify the state’s homeless situation.
Reporting by Malia Mattoch; Editing by Steve Gorman and Ken Wills