State officials hope sheriff’s patrols, private security and a new fence scheduled to go up today will finally mean the end of the notorious H-1 freeway viaduct homeless encampment, which sheriff’s deputies once again broke down Monday.
“It’s going to be secured 24/7,” said Ed Sniffen, deputy director of the state Department of Transportation. “I’m sure that’s going to help deter anybody from coming back to the area.”
Sniffen said the DOT is entering a new era where it no longer wants to clean up DOT land such as the area under the viaduct, only to see homeless people return.
“All we were doing was clearing out the debris and trash to ensure there were no health and safety concerns,” Sniffen said. “We really weren’t the resource to maintain enforcement in the area. Big time, we’re changing everything. I hope the public understands that we’re looking at this from a new lens. We’re not just clearing things out anymore. We’re ensuring the health and safety of the area.”
The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation plans to fence the area below the viaduct beginning today and eventually set up a HART staging area with a security guard, said Councilman Joey Manahan, who represents the area.
“It is going to be fenced off, and my understanding is there will be a security guard paid for by HART,” Manahan said. “It’s been going on for years and years. If DOT had security in there, at least in the overnight hours, it would have helped them with some of the illegal encampments.”
HART spokesman Russell Yamanoha could only say that a 6-foot-tall chain-link fence with black windscreen is scheduled to be installed today and no-trespassing signs eventually will be added. He said the cost of the fence is built into the overall HART budget for the area running from Pearl Harbor to Middle Street.
At the same time, a private cleanup crew working below the viaduct will need three to four weeks to remove tons of garbage, abandoned vehicles and structures after state sheriff’s deputies swept the sprawling homeless encampment Monday, forcing approximately 120 homeless people to find somewhere else to live.
DOT officials last swept the encampment below the viaduct in December 2015. It normally costs $250,000 to $300,000 per cleanup.
“This likely won’t come in less than that,” DOT spokesman Tim Sakahara said.
The work will involve dismantling wood-reinforced structures built below and even into the concrete viaduct. Workers will have to haul out tons of debris, including at least four vehicles with no tires, Sniffen said.
Some of the engineering and ingenuity below the H-1 freeway viaduct impressed the DOT’s Sniffen.
“It’s tremendous,” he said. “The innovation that they use is amazing.”
Until last week the area below the viaduct was home to some 180 people — most of them locally born, chronically homeless single adults and couples, said Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator. Some are believed to have substance abuse or mental health problems.
One woman had 39 dogs, Morishige said.
About 60 people who were warned of the sweep had left the area by Friday and were mostly taken in by their families, Morishige said.
While many of the newly displaced homeless told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that they had no idea where to go next, Sakahara said he saw several vehicles stop along Nimitz Highway and load up homeless people and their possessions.
“That’s all very positive and encouraging,” Sakahara said. “Hopefully they can reconnect” with family.
Nina Nasau, 42, stood on the edge of Nimitz Highway after deputies swept her from under the viaduct Monday morning. Asked where she’ll go next, Nasau gestured in the direction of Keehi Lagoon Beach Park.
“To the park, I guess,” she said.
Councilman Manahan welcomed Monday’s sweep but said he’s worried about where everyone will now sleep.
“My hunch is they will go and set up another camp where they won’t be swept or get kicked out,” Manahan said. “We still haven’t found a solution for those folks, a housing solution for that particular segment of people. They’ll find another area.”