Frustrated state agent pushes for beach park shutdown
May 25, 2018 | 76° | Check Traffic

Hawaii News

Frustrated state agent pushes for beach park shutdown

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    A homeless camp at Kakaako Makai Gateway Park.

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A Hawaii Community Development Authority board member wants to temporarily shut down Kakaako Makai Gateway Park to “break the cycle” of constant sweeps to clear out the homeless only to see the camps return the next day.

HCDA board Vice President Steve Scott acknowledged that his idea will not end long-term homelessness. But he maintained that shutting down Kakaako Makai for weeks of cleanup and maintenance will force people to move somewhere else instead of simply walking across Ala Moana Boulevard during weekly sweeps, then returning the next morning starting at 6 a.m.

Scott plans to talk to other board members before making a formal proposal, but said he believes HCDA “has the authority to close the parks for maintenance. Personally, at Gateway Park I would shut it down. I would love to see us just shut it down, close it up and go in and clean it up. There’s needles, there’s drug paraphernalia. We have to break this cycle where they’re just moving out to the sidewalk and — as soon as that firm cleans it out and is gone — they come back.”

Scott doesn’t want Kakaako Makai permanently closed, “because it is a public park.”

At one point in August, 293 people were counted living in wood-reinforced tarps and tents around the park and the University of Hawaii’s medical school and Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center.

The city spent six weeks methodically clearing out the encampment, but dozens of tents and tarps sprouted up again within days.

On Tuesday an estimated 55 to 75 people were living in 35 to 55 tents and structures in the area, said Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator.

“It fluctuates on a daily basis,” Morishige said.

“Part of the challenge is that the individuals who are remaining in Kakaako have a high level of need,” he said. “They’ve been unsheltered for a long period of time, and we’ve reached the point that those individuals who are left are the most difficult to serve.”

One person with “mental health and behavioral concerns” has been homeless for 10 years, Morishige said.

Social service outreach workers continue to work with the person, “but it does take time to provide the right type of support and the right level of resources,” Morishige said. “Many of the individuals are trying to find housing but don’t have any ID at all. If you don’t have a picture ID or Social Security card or birth certificate, it’s very hard to move on. And some have criminal records preventing them from accessing housing or employment. But we are continuing to offer outreach services hand in hand with enforcement efforts.”

Scott described persistent unhealthy conditions.

“There’s a tremendous health hazard right now in Kakaako,” he said. “Surfers tell me they see people early in the morning take buckets of their waste right off of Point Panic and dump their waste right on the rocks there. This is not acceptable. It’s terrible. Surfers are looking at the possibility of infections. You see things floating by.”

Since December two sister companies — Got-Junk? and You Move Me — have been cleaning out the encampments every week or so, said HCDA spokeswoman Lindsey Doi.

The HCDA was allocated up to $287,000 to clear and store homeless people’s belongings as part of a series of emergency proclamations that Gov. David Ige began signing last year.

The cleanup crews are backed by state sheriff’s deputies, but “there’s been no incidents,” Doi said. “They don’t dig their heels and say, ‘We’re not leaving.’ By the time we get there, many of them are gone already. They go elsewhere, and at 6 a.m. you see what you see.”

“They’re back the very next day,” Scott said. “You could do this every day, and that money would be depleted very quickly. It’s just very frustrating and very discouraging. A day does not go by that there is not a fistfight. There are arguments.”

The situation in Kakaako has come to define Hawaii’s struggles with the largest per capita homeless population in the country.

Scott’s also frustrated that a planned second homeless shelter in Kakaako is on hold.

The discovery of a damaged sewage pumping station at an old HCDA maintenance shed has forced architects to rethink plans to convert it into a family shelter designed to hold a maximum of 15 families — or 60 people — at any given time, Morishige said.

Architects now have to redesign the position of the shelter’s showers and bathrooms and make them comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, Morishige said.

Even with the setback, Morishige said the goal is to open the shelter “as quickly as possible, and I know that’s not a hard, solid deadline. There’s an increasing number of children growing up on sidewalks, and we want to address that situation quickly.”

Thus, Scott’s impatience.

“It’s just very frustrating to see a lot of talk but very little concrete solutions — or even progress toward a solution,” Scott said.

Nick Cutter, president and CEO of Cutter Management Co., said Cutter Chevrolet, Cutter Mazda and Cutter Chrysler Jeep Dodge, which sit on either side of the park, have been vandalized frequently.

But Cutter remains compassionate.

“There’s been some minor damage and theft issues, and sometimes we’ll get cars broken into,” Cutter said. “It’s cars that are for sale, employee cars, service cars. I’m not saying it’s the homeless. But it certainly seems like when they’re there there are higher (damage) claims. But we don’t really know who’s doing it.”

Cutter could not say whether the presence of a high-profile homeless encampment along Ala Moana Boulevard has hurt business.

“It does cause some problems,” Cutter said. “But I have compassion for their plight. I believe that we are very fortunate here in America and we are very fortunate, in particular, in Hawaii. I really believe the less fortunate should be helped by the more fortunate.”

Cutter then added, “The form it takes? I don’t have all the answers, and nobody has asked me, quite frankly.”

As for his own hopes for a long-term solution to Kakaako’s homeless population, Cutter said, “I haven’t heard of anything from the government agencies that would point to that, to be honest with you. But I am an optimist.”

“I don’t think it’s a lack of knowledge that’s the problem,” Cutter said. “It’s the lack of viable solutions at this point.”

56 comments

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  • Quit je*king around and kick them out once and for all, with no right of return, Shsr the park down. Responsible parents wouldn’t want their kids playing in a needle dumping ground anyway. If these losers still come hack……..arrest them!

      • Morishige works for Gov. Ige. Ige is responsible. However, like all other problems in the State, he has two ways to solve problems. First, raise taxes. Second, when he can’t do that just ignore it and it may go away. Second way is how he handles homeless problem, TMT, and bad roads.

        • Milliani–I think I can add the Third, more used solution–get a mainland adviser in for about $250,000 to form a committee–temporary, of course, than make it permanent and then fund it with more appropriations. The result???? What you want RESULTS???

      • No changes in Hawai’i nei with party voters who votes them in and complain they’re not doing their job. No ID, go too jai! Where’s homeland security? Not till someone gets hurt or child get raped or killed the lights come on, that’s not the aloha way of living.

  • Instead of having sheriff’s deputies simply backing up cleaning crews, have them assigned to the park 24/7 to actually enforce the law. That’s probably a lot cheaper than the cost of picking up the illegal campers’ trash after the fact.

      • “rampant immigration” In the beginning, Cayetano messed up when he expanded on The Green Card allotments for Immigration–The E-5 programs: “Green Card Through Investment(s)”. And, then The Filipino immigrants came flooding in to Hawaii, followed by the U.S Federal Government’s avoidance of their obligations to Micronesians–primarily dumping the Micronesians on the State of Hawaii, which has had a devastating effect on the Economic, Social, Health and Well Being of Hawaii residents.

  • Our elected bureaucrats need to tell us again why they stopped the program to pay for an airline ticket to send homeless people back to their home of record. Only a few hundred dollars versus tens of thousands to clean up after them. Clearly math is not one of their strong areas.

    Send them back to their home of record and family members.

    • Because you can’t force them to get on the airplane. They can offer, but most — if not all — of these remaining folks don’t want to leave. So, unless their home states are trying to extradite them for a criminal offense, you can’t make them leave Hawaii. Clearly basic law is not one of your strong areas.

      • That doesn’t seem like a hard problem to solve. The State could pass a law saying that you have to be able to prove you have your own permanent place of residence OR you have to be willing to reside in an official homeless shelter. The penalty for violating the law is 24 hours in jail, and all convicted violators are required to serve their term at one of the Mainland correctional facilities that the State contracts with to house part of the State’s inmate population. After being flown over to the Mainland jail and serving their one night, violators are released and are free to go wherever they like, but the State doesn’t pay for a ticket back to Hawaii.

    • The bill was killed because lawmakers felt that we would be allowing mainlanders to come here for vacation and return. But the bill could have worked if we imposed a condition such as no welfare in Hawaii for 24 months (or more) in exchange for a ticket home.

    • Airfare is too expensive. Just cattle them onto the next empty container ship leaving for the mainland and pay the container fee. Los Angeles has great weather too. Upon arrival in sunny California, at their own choice, they can opt to get a free ride from the LA shipping port in a squad car right into downtown LA or beautiful Santa Monica where thousands of homeless already reside and they are VERY VERY welcome by the city of Santa Monica as Santa Monica has a very open and well established homeless population that is well cared for by Santa Monica’s well funded coffers.

  • In this election year, get rid of the political talking idiots and stop the waste of public funds on the homeless problem. The way I see it, and understand, if one is homeless, and does not have a permanent address, then they are not eligible for public funds. Why is it continuing.? Also, the homeless commissioner should not be paid until a solution is found.

  • How about the city offering permanent trailer parks which could be an alternative to traditional homes. This could ease the cost of ownership of a home…..Hey legislators!!!! think out of the box!!!!

  • If I am not mistaken the parks close at 10pm, here is a situation I face every time me and the boys finish surfing at Diamond Head. We normally meet everyday after work and paddle out for a late session after a couple hours we meet back at the cars and just talk about the day the family and the old times. Sometimes we hang out a little longer than usual have a few beers always concealed not hurting or bothering anybody and then as soon as the clock strikes ten HPD rolls up and sends us packing you can set your watch by it. My question is what makes the homeless encampments on park land different. I feel for the homeless as I used to be one myself, if the city&county were more consistent with policing the area we might find more might be willing to move into shelters and get the needed help. Just my thought.

  • There aren’t any solutions. All these zombie movies and tv shows are a metaphor to this growing national problem. Mr. Cutter is right, we are lucky to live in America, because everywhere else in the world, especially the third world, those who are disenfranchised, and/or unable to care for themselves have found a way out, its called armed revolution against the ruling class.

  • The more divisive the line becomes “the haves and have nots”, the worse the homeless problem will become. And the problem could go far beyond “just being homeless” in the future.

    Imho, the answer lies in both business and government doing business in entirely new ways. As an example, it will mean developers building affordable and low income housing with no profit motive in collaboration with government subsidies. Thus, the immediate costs would far outweigh the potential future costs.

    People will have to accept changes to long standing practices on how government does business. It will mean changes in how we legislate.

    For example, people in Hawaii can no longer “afford the inevitable social costs” of taking the long standing practice of buying real estate at high prices now, even if you can afford to do so, on the premise that prices will be even higher in the future.

    If you think these kind of things are not plausible, just take a moment to reflect on the past, where we are now, and where we will likely be. Without these changes, Hawaii in the future will not look like the Hawaii everyone used to remember.

  • A recent report said that there are hundreds of open spaces in the shelters. Give these people 2 options – go to the shelters or go to jail. These homeless people are making a mockery of the City and State – enough already!

    • Yes there have been reports of space in the shelters but many do not want to go and will not do so. Maybe its because they can do their thing with the needles, drugs, alcohol, etc. but they will not go. Someone commented locking them up but government is truing to figure out a way to get people out due to over crowding. Some say low income housing needs to be built ok, but these are not the people who will be the ones who will live there. They just want to live as they are doing now. Until the state or city can figure out how to get them to take temporary housing their here to stay. The state and city does not care about being made a mockery of it really doesn’t matter.

  • I understand everyone’s frustration with the homeless problem, but I think a little compassion and reason need to be exercised here. So you tear down the tents and drive them away to clean up the area. Then what? That doesn’t solve the problem of their homelessness. They still have to go SOMEWHERE. This so-called “solution” to the problem has cost them just about everything that they own on this earth, with literally NOTHING left but the shirts on their backs. And they then have to go start all over again with even less than they had before. Is this truly a solution? I submit that most people living on the sidewalks or on the beach under a tarp would rather have a safe house to go home to at the end of the day rather than a cardboard box, or whatever. You people are overwhelmingly cruel. Suffice it to say that, a long, long time ago, I lived on the beach for a time. So long ago that the term “homeless” hadn’t even been coined yet. I HAVE walked a mile in their shoes. Be glad for what you have. It could all be gone in a heartbeat. “There but for the grace of God go I.”

    • Best thing you ever wrote.

      Too bad it will just get countered with some genius suggesting that the homeless go live with you. I realize that that’s a ridiculous comeback, but it’s simple, a cliche and therefore easy for the simple-minded to remember.

    • Tough love. Without this fall back position of government taking care of them, they will be forced to take personal responsibility and find a job and start living like the people who have been picking up their tab all this time.