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Huge tent city takes root

Homeless camps cover 50 acres, from Waipio Point, around Middle Loch to Pearl City

By Dan Nakaso

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 08:53 a.m. HST, Jul 01, 2010


WAIPAHU » Pastor Joe Hunkin picked his way around rusted car axles, propane tanks and two-by-fours studded with bent nails to find a homeless encampment where people have been cooking and sleeping directly behind Waipahu High School, in an area that received unwanted national attention this month.

Hunkin walked past a pit bull puppy and peered over a makeshift shelter of tents and tarp hidden by koa haole and elephant grass, then pointed toward the high school's athletic complex barely a football field away.

"The school is right over there," Hunkin said last week. "This isn't right."

The strip of land is bounded by Waipahu High School on one side and the calming waters of Pearl Harbor's Middle Loch on the other, where the Navy's mothball fleet sits idle. It's the most visible portion of an enormous homeless encampment that stretches five miles over approximately 50 acres of city, Navy and state land that serpentines around Waipio Point Access Road, the Ted Makalena Golf Course and the city's Waipio Soccer Complex and back down to Pearl City in the opposite direction, said Beth Chapman, who uncharacteristically lost a suspect in the swampy brush last year after five straight days of searching the area with her husband, Duane "Dog" Chapman, and their bounty hunting family.

In an episode of "Dog The Bounty Hunter" that aired on the A&E network two weeks ago, the Chapmans mounted mo-peds and switched their SUVs into four-wheel drive to navigate the area, where they discovered about 60 different encampments, Beth Chapman said last week in a telephone interview from Canada, where "Dog" was on a publicity tour.

The Chapmans have waded into homeless encampments plenty of times before in the islands—but nothing like the area around the golf course and soccer complex where Beth got two flat tires and Duane's daughter, "Baby Lyssa," had to rock her SUV back and forth to escape a muddy patch.

"That's real jungle land back there," Beth Chapman said. "The foliage was 10, 12 feet high with paths that lead everywhere into moats with people walking around with machetes. If you're the criminal element, those are the best places to hide in. They've got that whole place mapped out. They know every nook and cranny and they know how to escape quick."

Doran J. Porter, executive director of the Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance, believes more and more homeless encampments like the one behind Waipahu High School are springing up on Oahu as Honolulu police and city officials continue to push Oahu's homeless off of beaches and out of city parks.

"I don't know why it would surprise anyone that they've found these places," Porter said. "You get kicked out of one place, you have to find somewhere else to survive the night. ... And now their desperation is starting to show."

Girls at the Waipio Soccer Complex walked into the women's bathroom a few months ago and found a naked woman bathing in the bathroom sink, said Michele "Bud" Nagamine, who runs the 25-team Leahi Soccer Club that practices and plays at the soccer complex. Boys who went into the men's bathroom also found a naked man bathing in the sink, she said.

"It's an area removed from the main road," Nagamine said. "Things have been happening."

Scott Keopuhiwa, president of the Hawaii Youth Soccer Association, keeps track of problems at the soccer complex and has heard recent reports of homeless people washing laundry and dirty pots and pans in the bathroom sinks.

"That's an ongoing problem," Keopuhiwa said. "You want to make sure the kids are safe when they go to the restrooms. It's definitely a concern."

"Pastor Joe"—as Hunkin's called in Waipahu—has visited the site before, to implore the families living there to send their children to his shelter, the Lighthouse Outreach Center at Waipahu's Assembly of God Church.

"I said, 'Let me give the kids food,'" Hunkin said. "The homeless kids ride their bikes around there, but they never come to the shelter. My heart goes out for those kids."

Hunkin regularly detects the aroma of marijuana, but doesn't know whether it emanates from the homeless people or from delinquent school kids who also hang out in the area.

Chapman called the area a haven for chronic "ice" users.

Some had built multiple compounds out of plywood, or patched together tarps and tents. One person lived in a hollowed-out banyan tree, Chapman said, "and there was a cave that had a couch and carpet in it."

"There were thousands and thousands and thousands of places to hide in," she said. "Outside elements have definitely moved in and made it their home."

When he took over as principal of Waipahu High School last fall, Keith Hayashi began receiving reports of break-ins at the school's athletic storage shed.

At a time when all Hawaii schools are scrambling for funds, Waipahu High School lost saws, coolers, rubber trash cans, weed eaters, a half-dozen generators, a riding mower and a golf cart.

"We were getting hit left and right," Hayashi said. "We don't want to be replacing equipment when we can put our resources into instruction for our students."

School officials repeatedly called Honolulu firefighters when smoke would appear behind the school, which always turned out to be homeless people cooking on open flames, Hayashi said.

In February, state and city law enforcement officers swept the area behind the school and put up "no trespassing" signs.

"We didn't have any proof the homeless people were the ones who broke into our storage containers," Hayashi said. "I do know that once they cleared the area, we haven't had any break-ins since."

But with reports of homeless encounters at the soccer complex and evidence of new campsites behind his school last week, Hayashi worries about the upcoming school year.

"I am concerned," he said. "We need to be sure our students are safe and well accounted for."

It's the kind of situation that will only grow worse on Oahu as Honolulu's homeless continue to migrate away from beaches and parks, said Porter of the Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance.

"We're not solving the problem," Porter said. "We're just shuffling people from one spot to the other and we're going to be seeing more of this."






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