Several of the homeless people living in a warren of plywood- and pallet-hardened tents around the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center worry that Monday’s attack on state Rep. Tom Brower by two homeless teenagers will bring unwanted attention and force them to set up shop in someone else’s neighborhood.
Several newcomers and longtime occupants said a crackdown would represent another example of officials breaking up one homeless encampment only to create others somewhere else on Oahu.
Rosalene Lopes, 45, moved into Kakaako just two weeks ago after twice being cited for sleeping at Ala Moana Beach Park. She now lives with a friend in one of the last spots on the Diamond Head end of Olomehani Street, where tarpaulin- and tent-covered wooden structures butt up against each other and some of the homeless occupants run televisions and boomboxes off gas-powered generators that operate constantly.
Lopes acknowledged that the view of the tent structures is “not particularly pleasant to the public.”
But to homeless people like her who have been chased out of places like Ala Moana Beach Park, the homeless encampment that winds around the Children’s Discovery Center, Kakaako Waterfront Park and the University of Hawaii Medical School is “nice,” Lopes said.
There are showers and bathrooms at nearby Kakaako Waterfront Park. And, unlike Ala Moana Beach Park, Lopes said, “you can leave your stuff out here.”
Tommy Lorensi, 35, who is originally from Chuuk, Micronesia, moved into a tent on Olomehani Street three weeks ago after he, his wife, Kayleen, 26, and their three children — ages 4 years to 6 months — were forced out of Aala Park.
“I knew they allow people to stay here,” Lorensi said.
Brower said he went to the area on Monday and took pictures of the tent-lined sidewalks in response to complaints from the Children’s Discovery Center. Loretta Yajima, chairwoman of the center’s board of directors, did not respond to repeated requests for comment on Wednesday.
Brower suffered blunt head trauma, a cut near his right eye, bruised ribs, and abrasions to his left eye and knee. He said the physical pain was more intense on Wednesday, but that he has yet to decide whether to pursue criminal charges against his attackers.
“I don’t have any anger toward anyone,” Brower told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “I don’t want anyone involved to feel bad about the situation or I don’t want anyone involved to feel hurt.”
The 16-year-old brother of one of the boys who allegedly hit Brower said his family has lived around the Children’s Discovery Center for three years because they did not like the rules and regulations they found at the nearby Next Step Shelter.
The Star-Advertiser is not identifying the boys who allegedly attacked Brower because of their ages and because they have not been arrested.
Until recently, the brother said there was plenty of room between tent structures on Ohe Street, where his family lives, and people generally kept to themselves.
But in the past few months, the boy and others said, so many tents and plywood walls have gone up that they’re now right up against one another and there’s more tension.
George Guanio, 55, has lived on the same makai-side spot on Olomehani Street for seven years and claims he is the area’s original homeless occupant.
Now he’s surrounded by dozens of other tents that are set up according to ethnicities: Micronesians in one area, Samoans in another and “locals” in a third, Guanio said.
Others disagreed that the encampment is so segregated, but Guanio said that having different ethnic groups in different areas “keeps people patient and understanding.”
As he and others spoke, a state sheriff’s deputy slowly drove around Ohe and Olomehani streets, which are owned by the city.
While the city is also in charge of sidewalks and roads, the state is responsible for zoning and planning in an area where property ownership is divided among the city, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Kamehameha Schools and the Hawaii Community Development Authority.
City officials say that the mishmash of property ownership causes enforcement confusion. The area is also not subject to the city’s so-called “sit-lie” restrictions that help regulate homeless people in places like Waikiki.
The city often takes the lead in removing tents and other items from sidewalks, and cleared out Kakaako late last year. But Mayor Kirk Caldwell “has stated that he’s not planning any enforcement until there are more housing options,” Caldwell spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke said Wednesday.
“We should’ve taken more action from the beginning,” said Brower, the state lawmaker and beating victim. “Sometimes it takes something like this to wake people up.”
Brower pledged to continue to talk to the homeless who live around the Children’s Discovery Center to find both short-term and long-term answers.
“I think, initially, if the campsites are going to continue in Kakaako, I would like to meet with people who are camping there to ask them what small steps can be made,” Brower said. “A lot of positive things will come out of this. It puts our focus on this issue. It encourages us to take action.”