Time is now running out for 20 to 25 people who, if still living on the outer edges of the Kakaako homeless encampment Sept. 8, will be rousted from their makeshift homes in the first sweep since conditions there sparked renewed efforts to address Oahu’s homeless problem.
Notices will be posted Monday, giving the homeless occupants between Cooke and Ohe streets — mauka of Ilalo Street — nine days until they’re forced to leave, Mayor Kirk Caldwell said Thursday.
“I think we’re going to see for the first time ever a full-court press, coordinated approach. You’re going to see more things being done to make a difference.”
Gov. David Ige had asked Caldwell to hold off on the series of planned sweeps — which Caldwell prefers to call “compassionate enforcement” — until shelter space became available.
While shelter space for families remains tight, Caldwell and state homeless coordinator Scott Morishige said there is enough room to accommodate the first group of adults from Kakaako.
A census conducted the week of Aug. 3 found that 293 people were in the encampment at the time. Nearly 10 percent have since moved into shelters or found longer-term housing.
“Even though it might not be too visible,” Ige said, “there has been progress made in moving the homeless out of Kakaako.”
The encampment grew over the past several months, in part, as the city’s “sit-lie” ban forced homeless people out of economic centers such as Waikiki, downtown and Chinatown. The encampment became the focus of health and safety concerns after state Rep. Tom Brower (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana-Kakaako) was attacked June 29 while photographing the wood-reinforced tarps and tents situated near the University of Hawaii’s medical school and Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center.
Caldwell said it will take months to address everyone in the encampment through a “phased approach working around the edges,” and he hopes that people start moving out on their own.
“When we actually enforce, hopefully there will be very few there,” Caldwell said.
Officials will return every day to the swept areas to make sure they remain “open and free for everyone to enjoy,” Caldwell said.
Outreach workers are in constant contact with the homeless living in Kakaako, Morishige said, and are encouraging them to move into shelters or find long-term housing.
The sweeps will be conducted “in the full light of the day,” Caldwell said, and the homeless will be allowed to take anything of value.
A methodical approach in Kakaako will make it easier to find alternative shelter for everyone rather than “just scattering” them, Caldwell said. “It’s going to take months to complete” but will have “a more positive impact.”
Caldwell said that nearby landowner Kamehameha Schools and businesses such as Cutter Auto have agreed to not allow homeless people to be on their property during the sweeps, allowing Honolulu police to enforce trespassing violations.
The announcement of the first Kakaako sweep since the attack on Brower followed the fifth weekly meeting of Ige’s Governor’s Leadership Team on Homelessness.
The committee grew Thursday to include U.S. Rep. Mark Takai and a representative for U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, and included all three neighbor island mayors, who were in Honolulu for a meeting of island mayors.
“I think we’re going to see for the first time ever a full-court press, coordinated approach,” Caldwell said. “You’re going to see more things being done to make a difference.”
Takai said Thursday’s bigger meeting of Ige’s homeless leadership team “indicates the highest level of commitment from all branches and levels of government. … This challenge that we have in front of us, homelessness, is a multifaceted challenge. But the approaches need to be attacked and addressed at all levels of government — county, state and definitely at the federal level. The federal delegation is here to help and provide support.”
Representatives for U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono were among the inaugural members of Ige’s homeless committee.
State and city officials will again meet this week with representatives from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a major landowner in Kakaako, which owns the land beneath the Next Step shelter near the encampment.
OHA also owns an adjacent makai lot and previously told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that a second shelter on its makai lot could theoretically house everyone in the Kakaako encampment while separating the chronic homeless from homeless families.
Following Wednesday’s disappearance of a homeless woman who had been under a bridge near Kuakini Street, Caldwell said the safety of homeless people during hurricane season is “top of mind.”
Morishige said that state-contracted social service providers are also encouraging homeless people to find shelter and safety during the storms.
Caldwell emphasized that a bill he signed last week on the banks edging the Kapalama Canal homeless encampment now makes it illegal to camp along city-owned streams, rivers and canals “for this very reason.”
Ige said that an estimated 5,000 people are homeless, and half of them are living without shelter.
“We will continue as long as there are homeless people in our communities,” Ige said. “That’s the objective, to get all 5,000 homeless.”