City crews officially notified an estimated 20 to 25 homeless people living on the outskirts of the Kakaako homeless encampment Tuesday that they must be out within seven days, when anything they leave behind will be unceremoniously tossed in a dump truck as the city begins the long slog to clear out nearly 300 people over the next several months.
At Gov. David Ige’s request, Mayor Kirk Caldwell delayed initiating the first in a series of sweeps until enough shelter beds became available for the mostly single adults living on the edges of the encampment that is situated near the University of Hawaii’s medical school and the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center.
But several homeless people living in the rectangular area bordered by Ala Moana Boulevard and Cooke, Ohe and Ilalo streets told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser they have no intention of moving into a shelter.
Wayne James, 58, said he went to the Institute for Human Services, Hawaii’s largest emergency shelter, last week to inquire about space for him and his wife, Mi Suk James, 60.
As he left IHS, he said, a homeless client told James that IHS has bedbugs, which the Star-Advertiser documented in September during a series of stories about life inside IHS.
“Mi Suk can’t handle no bedbugs, and I’m allergic,” James said. “I’ll probably go back to the university area and stay doorway to doorway. Sweeping us, it’s going to be crazy. Where are all these people going to go?”
“A shelter? No,” said Linda Hill, 57, who just moved her tent to Ohe Street a couple of days ago after previously staying at IHS. “It’s just dirty,” Hill said. “No.”
David Fujisaki, 57, also stayed at IHS and said he prefers life on the street.
He’s already been swept out of Aala Park and from the bank of Kapalama Canal and is now ready for whatever fate awaits him when city crews eventually reach him deeper inside the encampment.
“I don’t like go into shelter, brah,” Fujisaki said. “I don’t like it, and I don’t want to go back. Too regulated. Too many rules.”
Several homeless people living in the first targeted area said they’ve already picked out alternate sites to set up camp around Kakaako and Ala Moana.
At a news conference earlier in the day at the state Capitol, Ige and his new homeless coordinator, Scott Morishige, highlighted the success since Aug. 7 in moving 43 people out of Kakaako and into either IHS or the Next Step shelter near the encampment.
The eight families and nine newly relocated single adults represent 15 percent of the 293 people who were counted in a census of the encampment conducted the week of Aug. 3.
“It’s a great day in dealing with the Kakaako homeless situation,” Caldwell said. “That’s the kind of progress we want to see.”
Morishige called the 15 percent reduction of the Kakaako encampment “significant progress.”
He set a goal of placing half of the 31 families that were counted in the August census into shelters within 60 days, or by the end of October.
Morishige then wants to find shelter beds for all of the original remaining Kakaako families by the end of the year.
Meeting the goals requires coordination with Oahu’s shelters to match the homeless people in Kakaako with the appropriate bed space. Bed spaces for families, in particular, are often in high demand.
Ige now wants similar census data collected for all of Oahu’s homeless encampments so officials can follow the same practices now being applied to Kakaako, likely starting next with Wahiawa and Waimanalo.
“This is a model we want to replicate in other parts of the island,” Morishige said.
Tuesday’s warning notices were printed in English, Samoan, Chuukese and Marshallese, and originally were supposed to be tied to fences, light poles and other fixed objects by city maintenance crews Monday. But initial translation errors with the Marshallese version delayed the postings until Tuesday.
The weekly news conference — the sixth by Ige’s new Governor’s Leadership Team on Homelessness — for the first time included U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, who has had her state director, Alan Yamamoto, serving on the committee.
After touring the Kakaako encampment, Hirono said there are “very complicated and challenging issues facing our homeless in Hawaii.”
The federal government funds some $30 million for various programs supporting homeless efforts in Hawaii, Hirono said.
But Hirono is also pushing a bill she authored that would reimburse Hawaii for $40 million annually that it pays out for medical costs for Micronesians through the Compact of Free Association.
An earlier effort by Hirono to include the reimbursement in immigration reform died in the House, so Hirono hopes a stand-alone bill will result in federal reimbursements for Hawaii, as well as for Arkansas and Guam, which also have sizable Micronesian communities.
“We have an obligation to help the COFA citizens,” Hirono told the Star-Advertiser. “It’s clear the country could do a lot more. I will keep on focusing on the need for more resources.”
Hirono is scheduled to return to Washington, D.C., on Monday, and the Senate resumes deliberations Tuesday.
At the news conference, Hirono also highlighted a “one-stop shop” of resources and information for Micronesians that opened Friday in Kalihi. The center was the result of $325,000 in federal funds and is a step toward “doing everything we can to provide resources and support to the challenges ahead,” Hirono said.
In the meantime, Caldwell said, the upcoming sweep of the first group of Kakaako homeless “makes it clear people cannot take over parts of our city and state property.”
The first sweep will occur “in the bright light of day,” with plenty of notice to those living in the encampment, Caldwell said.
With the multilanguage notices, Caldwell said “we over-notified.”
The first homeless to be swept will be allowed to take anything they want and will be provided with a contact list of services, along with a dark blue plastic bag they can use to store their identification, important documents and medications, Caldwell said.
Instead of calling it a sweep, Caldwell toggled between the terms “compassionate disruption” and “phased enforcement action.”
“We’re going to be coming next Tuesday on the eighth of September to begin the enforcement action,” Caldwell said. “We believe this is going to work.”