Camping permits at city parks are intended for people occasionally pitching tents, but many of Oahu’s 4,000 homeless have found them to be long-term residences. The growing problem should pressure the city to find other "safe zones" for the homeless so city beach parks can return to their intended use by residents as places to relax.
Camping permits are free to the public year-round from Friday morning until the following Wednesday morning at more than a dozen beach parks on Oahu. Homeless people have found they are able to pitch their tents as their sleeping place for six days of the week at no cost at city parks, having learned how to obtain permits for Waianae Coast beaches at Kapolei Hale.
State parks where camping is allowed, meanwhile, are a tenuous alternative for the homeless. Permits cost $12 a night for up to six people, requiring organization and expenditure by the poorest of the poor.
In an effort urging the city to grant more beach camping permits for the Waianae Coast, brothers Morris and Thurston Kamealoha have collected 400 signatures on a petition, and state Rep. Maile Shimabukuro, D-45th (Waianae-Makaha-Makua), supports the effort. The Kamealohas had been ordered by police during a birthday/fishing party to leave a beach because they lacked a permit for a tent where their children were resting.
City Parks Director Les Chang has informed Shimabukuro that the city is developing online permitting that "should help minimize long lines and provide a more equitable opportunity for those seeking a recreational camping permit." That may give people with Internet connections an advantage, effectively forcing the computerless to the back of the lines.
The problem, though, of finding a place for the homeless to spend the night will remain. Neither the city nor state can afford to purchase land as "safe zones" for the homeless to lay their heads. As mayor, Mufi Hannemann supported the concept of tent cities but warned that they must come with rules, water, sanitation and private partners to secure them and provide basic services without imposing shelter rules that would result in an exodus.
Gov.-elect Neil Abercrombie stated during this year’s campaign, "In the short term, we need to partner with community agencies, the private sector and others to get needed services to individuals and families … As we go forward, we need more housing that working people can actually afford." Upon becoming mayor, Peter Carlisle signed into law a ban on tents and shopping carts on sidewalks, having tactlessly uttered as a candidate that sprinklers should be turned on in the middle of night in parks where the homeless are camping.
The Lingle administration opposed legislation that would have enabled campsites as "safe zones" for the homeless on city or state park land. But with new administrations on the state and city levels, renewed efforts must be made for inspired options. In July, three state representatives floated the idea of the public and private sectors coming together to create an outdoor area for homeless tents in the short term. This idea should be explored. The current situation in Waianae in which limited camping permits intended for public enjoyment are co-opted for makeshift homes should not continue.