There were only three tents for a cleanup crew to dismantle when the city made good on Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s promise to begin clearing out the Kakaako homeless encampment Tuesday.
At one point there had been about two dozen tents and makeshift shelters around the state park bordered by Ala Moana Boulevard and Cooke, Ohe and Ilalo streets. But just two empty tents were still standing on Cooke Street and one on Ohe Street when a seven-member maintenance crew moved in with a garbage truck, backed by plainclothes Honolulu community police officers.
The maintenance crew pulled out car tires, a broken box spring and an assortment of tarps, metal poles and all kinds of abandoned personal items. City crews gave seven days’ notice to an estimated 20 to 25 homeless people that they had to be gone by Tuesday, and anything left behind would be tossed.
It’s unclear what section of the sprawling encampment will be targeted next — or when.
“The next location has not yet been announced,” city spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke wrote in an email to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “Notice will be provided to the media as soon as possible.”
On Tuesday, a representative for the nearby Cutter car dealership, who declined to give his name, complained that the homeless who had been living along Ohe Street had cut a hole in Cutter’s fence after the sweep was announced. They left behind a small dumpster’s worth of debris on Cutter property.
Ross Sasamura, director and chief engineer for the Department of Facility Maintenance, told the Cutter official that the cleanup crew was not allowed to clear rubbish from private property — an answer that clearly frustrated the Cutter official.
“They dumped their trash on our property,” the Cutter official said. “Now we’re responsible to clean it up.”
The debris left on Cutter’s site represents “part of the effects of homelessness,” Sasamura told the Star-Advertiser. “Everybody has to bear the brunt of homelessness.”
While the Cutter official shook his head, Sunshine Tussing packed up her Honda Accord with the last remaining tent on Ohe Street, along with all of her belongings, her pit bull Sparky and three cats.
Since most Oahu homeless shelters won’t take pets, Tussing, who is deaf, wrote in a Star-Advertiser reporter’s notebook, “I have no idea where I will go.”
Last week Tussing had been living in the tent with a man. Asked where he was Tuesday, Tussing wrote, “I’m trying to leave him — not (a) good man.”
Wayne James had been living in a tent on Ilalo Street until notifications went up last week about Tuesday’s sweep. He has since traded his moped and “a couple hundred bucks” for a 1999 Toyota Sienna minivan that he’s now living out of at Ala Moana Beach Park.
“It’s until I get a place,” James said. “It’s very comfortable.”
The challenge now rests with Honolulu police and state sheriff’s deputies to keep homeless people from returning and setting up new camps around the park, which represents the outer edge of the Kakaako encampment that winds around the University of Hawaii’s medical school and Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center.
“It’s just a matter of enforcing park rules,” said Lindsey Doi, community outreach manager for the Hawaii Community Development Authority, which owns the land.
No overnight camping is allowed, and no one can be in the park after 10 p.m., Doi said. The city also has the authority to enforce its stored-property and sidewalk-nuisance ordinances that it uses to keep city sidewalks clear, Sasamura said.
The city last cleared the area in November, he said.
The encampment of wood-reinforced tents and tarps grew to include 293 people during a head count conducted the week of Aug. 3. The population swelled as homeless people were forced out of Waikiki, Chinatown and downtown by the city’s “sit-lie” ban, which prohibits sitting or lying in commercial districts.
The encampment became a source of safety and health concerns after state Rep. Tom Brower (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana-Kakaako) was attacked by a mob June 29 while photographing the encampment, which lies within his district.
Caldwell had agreed to Gov. David Ige’s request to postpone the first sweep until enough shelter space became available for the estimated 20 to 25 people living around Ala Moana Boulevard and Cooke, Ohe and Ilalo streets.
Caldwell has said it will take months to systematically clear out all sections of the encampment and find enough shelter space for everyone.