An estimated 50 chronically homeless people who were swept out of Kakaako Waterfront Park and its sister parks have erected dozens of tents and shelters in nearby Mother Waldron Park and along Pohukaina Street this week as city officials figure out what to do next with a homeless population they inherited from state officials.
Many of the homeless now living in the city’s Mother Waldron Park had been staying in one of the country’s largest homeless encampments that sprung up in the summer of 2015 around Kakaako Waterfront Park and have been getting swept onto private, city and state lands ever since.
“We’ve been familiar with these people since 2015,” said city spokesman Andrew Pereira. “This is the most service-resistant group of hangers-on that came from Kakaako. These folks absolutely want to be living this lifestyle. Sometimes they know the jurisdictional boundaries better than we do.”
There have always been homeless people around Mother Waldron Park, but their numbers jumped this week after the Hawaii Community Development Authority closed the state-owned Kakaako Gateway Parks near the University of Hawaii medical school on Sunday to repair damage caused by previous homeless encampments.
Honolulu police this week have been reminding people in Mother Waldron Park that they cannot have any alcohol, open fires or structures — and cannot be in the park before 5 a.m. or after 10 p.m., Pereira said. At the same time, a special city clean-up crew continues to enforce the city’s stored property and sidewalk nuisance ordinances around the park that are intended to keep city sidewalks clear.
Police “did an outreach (Wednesday) to say they will enforce park closure hours and will be enforcing from here on out,” Pereira said. “We’re going to drive home the message that there are services available and there’s shelter space and it’s not acceptable to be in this public area. … It is an ongoing issue. There is no one-time solution.”
Asked what will happen when the two Kakaako Gateway Parks and Kakaako Waterfront Park reopen Jan. 8, Pereira said: “We’ll see. We know they came from there.”
The city last year added new signs to Mother Waldron Park, and renovations to the park’s bathroom continue. The cost for the work hasn’t been reported yet because it’s still ongoing, said Nathan Serota, spokesman for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.
Garett Kamemoto, the HCDA’s interim executive director, said a private security company has been enforcing park closure hours in Kakaako Waterfront Park “and has been very successful in getting people to leave the park at 10 p.m. every night.”
Block By Block security company has an annual contract worth about $300,000, Kamemoto said.
He said discussions are underway on other strategies to keep homeless people out of the state-owned parks, but declined to be specific.
“We are working with other state agencies to come up with other creative solutions, but it’s in process,” Kamemoto said. “The intention is that you can’t have an encampment in Waterfront Park and stay there overnight. Every member of the public is welcome in the park when the park is open, but when the park is closed we will be strictly enforcing the 10 o’clock closure.”
Kamemoto’s predecessor originally estimated that it would cost $500,000 to repair damage blamed on homeless people at Kakaako Waterfront Park.
The repairs are continuing for “health and safety issues,” such as exposed electrical wiring and damaged plumbing, that are estimated to cost $200,000, Kamemoto said.
The HCDA likely will defer an additional $300,000 worth of repairs for such things as landscaping and damaged walls, which could be fixed as part of an overall renovation, Kamemoto said.
In the meantime, Honolulu police will be reminding the people who moved out of Kakaako Waterfront Park and Kakaako Gateway Parks and into Mother Waldron Park that they’re not welcome at night.