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Staying 'out of sight, out of mind'

By Mary Vorsino

LAST UPDATED: 1:56 a.m. HST, Nov 11, 2011

As world leaders began to arrive in Honolulu on Thursday, homeless people in the urban core appeared to be keeping a low profile, largely staying out of Waikiki and off several main roads.

In Iwilei, homeless encampments had shifted to side streets, though there were a few people set up on a small green space on Nimitz Highway westbound across from Kmart. Some predicted they would have to relocate soon.

"I've had to move four times," said Bruce McLellan, who was trying to catch a nap in the grassy area Thursday morning. The 47-year-old, who has been homeless for two years, said he had been moved from Kakaako and spots in Iwilei in recent weeks.

"It's hard to sleep and find a good place," he said.

Annette Tuituu, 48, and her boyfriend have lived in a tent on Pine Street in Iwilei for two months. She said she has noticed more homeless moving into the area in recent days. On Thursday there were about 20 tents along side streets in Iwilei.

"I was here by myself" before, Tuituu said.

Residents and groups that help homeless people said sweeps in the weeks leading up to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings pushed the homeless from Waikiki and off main APEC travel routes.

But the sweeps have not resulted in an increase in people seeking space at shelters in the urban core, providers said.

Instead, said Darlene Hein, director of community services at Waikiki Health Center's Care-A-Van outreach program, it appears "people are scattering a little bit more ... moving farther out."

Hein said she has heard of increased homeless numbers in Windward Oahu and on the North Shore, and in Moiliili and Kalihi.

Residents agreed a homeless encampment at the Old Stadium Park in Moiliili is getting larger. There were more than 20 tents on the sidewalk at midday Thursday.

"After they moved people from right across the (Hawai'i) Convention Center ... I really noticed a pretty big growth" of homeless at the park, said McCully/Moiliili Neighborhood Board Chairman Greg Cuadra.

Before the APEC sessions, state and city crews cleared homeless from high-security zones and APEC travel routes.

Service providers said they are receiving more requests for meals, access to showers and case management.

River of Life Mission, which serves 15,000 meals a month, is seeing about 30 more people a day come in for food, showers and free hygiene products. Merrie Susan Marchant, River of Life general manager, said the increase started Monday.

"Where they're coming from, I can't tell you," she said.

The Institute for Human Services, which runs the largest emergency shelter in the islands, said it has had 30 to 50 new people coming in every few days for services but not shelter.

That's up from 15 to 20 new people normally.

"They're coming for meals. They're coming for the showers, toiletries, but many of them don't stay," said Connie Mitchell, IHS executive director, adding some of the new people appeared to have been displaced from other places because of sweeps.

IHS has room for about 50 single males in its men's shelter, which holds 200. IHS also has space for 10 single women, but its facility on Kaaahi Street for families is full with more than 30 families, including 56 children, most under 4.

Mitchell said the lack of space at the family shelter is not APEC-related, but linked to the economic downturn. Many families are coming in after losing jobs or because they were doubling up with relatives and had to leave, she said.

The state's Next Step shelter in Kakaako is at capacity, with about 200 people.

Hein, of Waikiki Health Center's Care-A-Van program, which manages the shelter, said though more people aren't looking to move in, she is getting more general inquiries. People are "kind of asking about shelters."

She called the APEC displacement "a blip."

"The homeless problem," she said, "is a continual one."

Utu Langi of Hawaii Helping the Hungry Have Hope, which operates a small shelter of refitted buses in Kakaako, said he has seen a few more people looking for shelter.

Altogether he can serve 25 people.

They say, "We're just tired of being moved around," Langi said.

At Pawaa Neighborhood Park, there were about 15 homeless people camped out Thursday morning, a number residents said grows at night, when people are forced by law to move to the sidewalk.

Homeless in the small park said that while the APEC forum is going on, they are trying to remain "out of sight, out of mind."

"I wish they would have educated us more (about APEC) instead of just scaring us" about possible sweeps, said Jordan Quon, 31, who is homeless with his wife, Kawaii. "We're all nervous."

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