Three Honolulu parks that are becoming increasingly known for their homeless camps are being shut down for two months by the city for what are being called major maintenance projects.
Old Stadium Park and Moiliili Community Park (also known as Moiliili Field), which are kitty-corner from each other, and Crane Community Park in Kapahulu will close Wednesday and reopen Nov. 5, Parks Director Michele Nekota said Friday.
Among the projects to be undertaken: tree trimming; irrigation system repairs; field maintenance, including aeration, fertilizing and ball-field improvements; selective herbicide applications; power-washing of concrete pads and walkways; repairs to tables, benches and fencing; interior and exterior painting; comfort station makeovers, including repairs to toilets, urinals and sinks; security features; and other structural items.
The maintenance closures follow similar shutdowns in the past year at Thomas Square, Mother Waldron Park and Pawaa In-Ha Park, all of which are also known havens for the homeless. Parks officials announced that In-Ha Park, which has been closed the past few months, will close an additional month, through Oct. 1, so that more work can be done.
Nekota told reporters that the homeless presence is not driving the closures.
“It’s not because of the homeless that we’re closing down the parks; we’re doing it because we really do need to maintain the parks,” Nekota said. “The parks are picked based on the maintenance projects.”
She pointed out that Mother Waldron, in Kakaako, “looks amazing” following its recent cleanup. “We look at the type of projects we have to do for maintenance, and if we need to fix irrigation, we need to paint, we need to do the renovation of comfort stations, we need to do additional turf maintenance and those types of things, and then of course if there’s graffiti or vandalism, we make sure we pick those type of parks,” Nekota said.
Nekota acknowledged that there are homeless at those sites and said Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s Office of Housing has been working with homeless service providers to help notify those camped there of the impending closures and offer assistance relocating.
Throughout the mainland, parks get two to three months of rest and restore themselves, Nekota said. Because the weather here allows for the parks to be open 12 months out of the year, Hawaii fields don’t get that break, she said. “Sometimes it takes two to three to four months, like 120 days, for turf to get strong enough, but we’re trying to open up in two months.”
Moiliili Field and Crane Park host a number of sports activities, mostly baseball and basketball, respectively. About six sports groups and others with permits to use the parks are being asked to relocate for the two months, she said.
Georgette Preston, 45, and her boyfriend “Spider” will need to pack up their belongings and find somewhere else to go when Old Stadium Park closes Wednesday. Preston said she can’t go into a shelter because none will allow all three of her dogs in, and she doesn’t want to separate them.
Preston, who grew up in Palolo public housing, said she’s been homeless off and on for 18 years. Since she left prison following a stint for drug charges three years ago, Preston and Spider have been living in the park. She estimated there were about two dozen people living on the grounds until a few months ago when people who had been camping at Mother Waldron, the Kakaako waterfront parks and In-Ha began showing up.
“Now I’d say there’re close to 50 of us,” Preston said.
It’s likely she and others will relocate to Ala Wai Park since it’s pet-friendly and next to a dog park, she said.
She’s not sure whether they’ll come back to Old Stadium Park when it reopens.
She and most of the other people camping there are respectful, and she cleans the area around her camp each day, Preston said. There are lot of misconceptions about the homeless and the people who live at the park, she said. People shouldn’t be intimidated about going to the park because there are homeless there, she said.
“We’re human just like they are, but the circumstances that put us here they might not understand,” she said.