As they do every workday, a maintenance crew cleared scores of sidewalks structures and personal belongings Tuesday as the city continued enforcement actions that hit the homeless in areas throughout Oahu where they congregate.
Each week, the crew collects an average of 5 to 8 tons of materials at homeless sites.
Gov. David Ige and Mayor Kirk Caldwell continue to look for both short- and long-term answers for what to do with nearly 300 homeless people crammed into wood-reinforced tents and tarps near the University of Hawaii’s medical school and Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center.
Among the island’s homeless areas, the Kakaako encampment has drawn the most attention in recent weeks as city ordinances nudge homeless people away from areas like Waikiki and Chinatown.
|To report a city sidewalk that’s being blocked — or property being stored illegally on city land — call 768- 3585.|
But efforts to deal with the Kakaako encampment are not slowing the work of a special city cleanup crew tasked with enforcing two laws. The 4-year-old stored-property ordinance (SPO) makes it illegal to store belongings on public property, and the 2-year-old sidewalk nuisance ordinance (SNO) prohibits blocking city sidewalks.
The work of the “SPO/SNO Enforcement Team,” as it’s called, is dirty and smelly and — as it did Tuesday — often involves discovering and disposing of “toilet buckets” found inside tents that many call home.
Because the team is required to give 24-hour notice under the stored-property ordinance, 25 tents and tarps that had lined Kapalama Canal only days before were all gone Tuesday morning, said Honolulu Police Department community policing officer Anthony Kalahui, who works in the area and knows the homeless living along the canal.
Left behind were dozens of wood pallets, garbage and abandoned items that spilled into the canal.
Across the street on the Ewa end of Kohou Street, some of the homeless individuals stood with their belongings and waited out the cleanup.
Others had stashed items in bushes and under buildings and were waiting for the six police officers and six members of the SPO/SNO Enforcement Team to leave, Kalahui said.
“They’ll be back by this afternoon,” Kalahui said.
The head of the SPO/SNO Enforcement Team — Ross Sasamura, director and chief engineer of Honolulu’s Department of Facility Maintenance — said the work is never-ending, but it does have an impact.
“People call it a cat-and-mouse game because there are always going to be people who are going to move back,” Sasamura said. “But if we don’t do what we do, the encampments would be even larger and more embedded or entrenched and more difficult to enforce.”
Facilities maintenance workers used to do the cleanups as part of their normal duties, along with patching potholes and fixing sewers, said city spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke.
In March 2013, Mayor Caldwell authorized eight positions with the sole mission to keep city lands clear of structures and property.
“The mayor calls them the roving patrol,” Broder Van Dyke said.
The enforcement team responds to a list of complaints about homeless squatters around the island and regularly returns to the same sites, often in the same month.
“Our system is complaint-driven,” Sasamura said. “There’s no shortage of places to go to.”
While the stored-property ordinance requires advance warning, the enforcement team can immediately clear city sidewalks under the sidewalk nuisance law, often startling people living in structures reinforced by plywood and wood pallets.
So when the team rolled up to Kuwili Street in Iwilei on Tuesday morning, two people emerged from their encampment and ran in the opposite direction.
But Stan Filipe, 22, was awakened by police.
“It’s my stuff,” Filipe said as he watched the SPO/SNO Enforcement Team tear apart his structure and throw everything into a dump truck. “Guys gotta do what guys gotta do.”
Gilbert Baiglon, 48, walked back to Kuwili Street after eating breakfast across the street at the Institute for Human Services and found that police had cordoned off his encampment with plastic tape.
Officers invited Baiglon to take whatever he could, and he removed a backpack containing his identification and important papers, cellphone and charger, and a separate nylon bag with a pair of jeans.
He abandoned a box full of tools, pillows, blankets, shoes — and his shelter.
Otherwise, Baiglon left Kuwili Street with the clothes on his back: a T-shirt, shorts and rubber slippers.
Asked where he planned to sleep Tuesday night, Baiglon said, “I don’t know. I guess I’ll start over again.”