A Waimanalo campground that has overflowed with homeless people over the last year could find itself cleared out again as early as this weekend.
The vibe around Campground 18 at Waimanalo Beach Park yesterday was one of weariness more than anxiety as rumors of a crackdown swirled.
"It’s the oppression of the powerless," said 56-year-old Erskin Olsen, who has lived at the park for the last three years. "What else is new?"
Olsen said he heard from numerous sources, including police officers who patrol the area, that a sweep of illegal campers could occur tomorrow. Others in the park say they have heard that it is scheduled for next week.
City officials could not be reached yesterday to confirm or deny the rumors.
Most of the park’s homeless population congregates in Campground 18, next to the Waimanalo Canoe Club boathouse and away from the throngs of tourists who crowd the shoreline and picnic areas near the main entrance.
The campground reflects the homeless community’s vigilance in keeping things tidy. Aside from a few loose slippers and a couple of casually abandoned children’s bicycles, personal possessions are kept close around makeshift tents or clusters of lawn chairs.
Among local homeless advocates, Waimanalo is known for its relatively stable homeless population.
"A lot of them have been there for a long time," said Utu Langi, executive director of the homeless outreach program H-5 (Hawaii Helping the Hungry Have Hope). "For the people who do outreach there, it’s good because they don’t have to chase them around to find out where they are."
Yet, longtime regulars at the park say their numbers have swelled over the last year, from a core group of about 30 to as many as 70 or 80. Some blame the crackdown on homeless populations in Waikiki.
Others say it is a side effect of the state’s prolonged economic woes.
Darlene Hein, director of community services for the Waikiki Health Center, said she and her staff have noticed a migration from Kapiolani Park and other high-concentration areas that have drawn police attention to more isolated areas such as Waimanalo.
Olsen said the influx requires his miniature community to carefully police itself lest it draws unwanted attention from area residents and police. Last month, Honolulu police arrested four people for outstanding warrants during a sweep of the coastline.
"When somebody comes (to the park), we welcome them and try to take care of them," he said. "It doesn’t matter if you’re local or haole, but if you’re an alcoholic or a drug user, we don’t tolerate that because there are kids here. If you act like a pig and make things hard for everybody else, ‘Bye, have a good day.’"
Olsen, who worked as a roofer for 26 years, used to earn money from the Department of Human Services for performing chores for his father, who was stricken with cancer. When his father died, the checks stopped, and Olsen found it difficult to get roofing jobs at his age.
He said he lives at the park, in part, because it is where he and his father used to fish.
Olsen said relations with area police are cordial, provided he and his fellow campers abide by some well-established rules.
Regulars at the campsite get camping permits each week. On Fridays they set up their tents on the campgrounds.
On Wednesday and Thursday they break down their dwellings, move their possessions over the hedge to the narrow pathway bordering the road and find "other accommodations" (usually the beach) at which to spend the night.
The weekly excursion to the Frank Fasi Municipal Building downtown is a necessary inconvenience for longtime park resident Lurline Perry.
Perry, 56, said she and several others took the last bus out of Waimanalo late Wednesday night to make sure they had a place in line when permits for the Fourth of July weekend were issued early yesterday morning. They tried to sleep in front of the building but were told by police to move.
"We have to do that every week, or else we get a ticket," Perry said. "It’s rough. We’re poor Hawaiians out here. What more do they want from us?"
Langi said he has already seen a swell of newly homeless residents seeking services from his H-5 program. Still, he notes that the overall rise in homeless figures might be due, at least in part, to a greater number of longtime homeless people actively seeking help.
"Working families may be quicker to become homeless when they lose employment, but they also tend to recover faster," he said.