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Thursday, April 24, 2014         

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Homeless in Kakaako weigh options

Some might not leave the area when the state begins enforcing a ban on makeshift structures

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

POSTED:


The 75 to 100 homeless people in Kakaako Makai are pondering their next moves following the state's announcement earlier this week that tents and other makeshift shelters need to be taken down by Tuesday.

"We don't know where we're going to go," said Tita Na'o, who has lived in Kakaako for about two years.

Na'o, 27, said she and her ailing fiance have been kicked out of Ala Moana Park, Thomas Square and Chinatown and elsewhere and were told by law enforcement officers to move to Kakaako.

Anthony Ching, executive director of the Hawaii Community Development Authority, which oversees Kakaako development, said his agency's main interest is not in kicking homeless people out of the area, but in the ability to clean and maintain the waterfront district.

Ching, state homeless coordinator Marc Alexander and social service providers canvassed the area makai of Ala Moana Boulevard between Ala Moana Beach Park and Forrest Avenue, handing out fliers informing people that tents, lean-tos and other structures will no longer be allowed starting Tuesday.

Both city and HCDA laws prohibit unpermitted structures in roadways, including sidewalks, he said. Structures include "tents, awnings and the like," he said.

"I am not saying that you must move out of the area," Ching said. "I am saying you are obstructing me from fulfilling my requirements as a landlord." Those duties include keeping the areas clean and maintained.

There will, however, be strict enforcement against people setting up quarters on nonpark state or private property, and grassy areas in the region, Ching said.

The increase in the Kakaako homeless population has resulted in more crime in the area, Ching said. There have also been at least two fires and one rape reported in the area the past two months, he said.

On Tuesday, police arrested a man for threatening another homeless man in his tent while holding a BB gun.

Na'o, who has a tent along Ilalo Street near Fisherman's Wharf, said she will move out of the area but not into any shelters.

"I'm people-phobic," she said. "When I'm confined with too many people, I get rowdy and stuff."

Na'o's neighbor, Michelle Kaleopaa, has been living in a tent next door with her two boys, ages 2 and 1. Kaleopaa, who has lived in several spots in lower Kakaako for about three months, is unhappy with the state's change in policy.

Money got tight after her husband was incarcerated, and the family was evicted from their Kalihi apartment, Kaleopaa said.

"We're comfortable here," she said. "Our kids are safe here. I feel safer sleeping outside than instead of in a room full of people I don't know."

It's unreasonable for HCDA to suggest they can stay there without tents, she said.

"What if it rains? My kids are going to be out in the rain."

Several longtime homeless people who live along a closed-off side street near Kakaako Waterfront Park also might have to take down their encampments. They blamed newcomers for the state's actions.

John Mantanona, 52, said those who have moved in recently set up camps along well-trafficked streets like Ala Moana Boulevard and have tended to be dirty and messy.

"They trash this place," Mantanona said. "All this s-- reflects badly on us."

Mantanona and several neighbors said while they will take down their structures, they intend to keep living in the area by going into hiding during the day and returning to more exposed areas at night. "We're not leaving here."

Utu Langi, executive director of the nonprofit Hawaii Helping the Hungry Have Hope, known as H5, said there are about 15 to 20 bed spaces at the agency's Next Step shelter on the Ewa end of lower Kakaako.

Langi said his group and others canvassed the area with HCDA on Tuesday hoping to draw people to the shelter.

H5 recently opened up 30 bed spaces in old buses parked in a vacant lot, but those spaces are currently all filled, Langi said.

"We're hoping that they will go to a place where they can get help," Langi said. "I know that probably most of the folks that are there, and this is sad, are going to move somewhere else."

Ching said the city, Kamehameha Schools and several volunteer groups are being enlisted to help with next Tuesday's beautification project.

They include the city Department of Facility Maintenance, the Honolulu Urban Corps' KUPU, Word of Life LIFE 360 and H5.





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