Kakaako’s homeless are ready to disperse — again — when the city shuts down Mother Waldron Neighborhood Park on Tuesday for six weeks of “maintenance.”
It’s the same strategy that both the city and Hawaii Community Development Authority have been using since last year when either Mother Waldron or nearby state-owned Kakaako Waterfront Park and its sister parks get overrun with homeless people and their tents, tarps and dogs.
Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator, said social service outreach workers from Kalihi-Palama Health Center and his staff on Friday placed five people from Mother Waldron into the city’s Hale Mauliola homeless navigation center on Sand Island, which accepts pets. Another person from Mother Waldron has agreed to move into the Waianae Civic Center homeless shelter, Morishige said.
Six more homeless people have said they also would be willing to move off the street Tuesday morning, when the city closes the park until July 6, he said during an interview Saturday.
“You just have to continue the consistent effort,” said Morishige. “Every time outreach providers go out, there’s a small number of people who accept shelter, who accept services. Over time, if you continue the efforts, the numbers are going down. It’s not clearly visible, but there is a reduction.”
Several of the 40 or so homeless people living in and around Mother Waldron Park on Saturday — most of them veterans of the street — told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser they’re still unwilling to accept the ongoing offers of shelter space and other assistance.
Asked where he plans to sleep Tuesday night when the city closes the park, “Bruddah” John Mantanona, 59, said, “good question.”
Mantanona and others who have been shuttling between Mother Waldron and Kakaako Waterfront Park over the last few years know the waterfront park and its sister parks are no longer an option for them since HCDA granted permission to Honolulu police and a special city cleanup crew to enforce city rules in the state parks.
“Pretty sure cannot go back over there,” Mantanona said.
So the question remains where everyone will end up starting at 5 a.m. Tuesday.
“I don’t know yet,” said Lorna Harry, 44, as she squatted along Cooke Street Saturday in front of the ABC Stores corporate headquarters, where piles of feces dotted the sidewalk.
Pointing makai toward Kakaako Waterfront Park, Harry said: “We came over here from over there, over there from over here, over here from over there. Back and forth, back and forth.”
Like many of the others who moved into Mother Waldron this month, Christina Throman, 43, said Honolulu police have been issuing her handfuls of citations for infractions such as jaywalking across Cooke Street to get back and forth to Mother Waldron.
“So far, I get five tickets,” Throman said as she stood at her encampment in front of ABC Stores’ headquarters.
The 40 or so people and their dogs living along Cooke, Keawe, Halekauwila and Pohukaina streets that border Mother Waldron are the remnants of what once was one of America’s biggest homeless encampments. In the summer of 2015, the moving shanty town of tarps, shopping carts, wooden pallets and other portable materials had swelled to more than 300 people in the parks and sidewalks around the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine and Kakaako Waterfront Park.
The city last shut down Mother Waldron Park for six weeks of maintenance in December, denying families, youth teams, neighborhood residents and other park users access to play structures, grassy areas, a restroom and basketball courts.
“Park maintenance staff will be aerating, fertilizing and treating the grass, in addition to repairing the damaged irrigation during this closure period,” the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation said in a statement announcing Tuesday’s planned closure. “Additional maintenance to park trees and other amenities will be conducted as necessary.”
Bryan Mick, 43, shot baskets by himself at the park Saturday, surrounded by tents and tarps, a Honolulu police officer dealing with a complaint and a city parks crew picking up bags of rubbish and discarded items.
Mick and his girlfriend moved into the nearby 801 South condominium just last year, but he’s been watching homeless people shuttle around Kakaako for years.
“I understand the theory about compassionate disruption where you want to make it a little bit more uncomfortable for people to choose this lifestyle and, hopefully, encourage them to take some other avenues that might be available to get out of homelessness,” Mick said. “But I’d say, empirically, the results have been mixed.”
So when the city closes Mother Waldron Park again this week, Mick expects most of the homeless to fan out into someone else’s neighborhood.
“They’re just going to find some place else to move,” he said. “I’ve seen them move from street to street, from park to park.”