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Fence along canal drives away homeless

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Fencing has begun to go up along the Kohou Street side of Kapalama Canal. While a large homeless encampment has abandoned the site, a shopping cart and other debris still litter the water and its banks.
Since the city began putting up a chain-link fence along Kohou Street along Kapalama Canal this week, scores of homeless people have made an exit from what had been a growing encampment next to the waterway.

On Friday some debris, from shopping carts to bike parts, continued to litter the canal and its banks.

The fence stretches along Kohou Street from Dillingham Boulevard to North King Street and protrudes so far out that it would be difficult for anyone to try to pitch a tent in the area. After the Kohou Street side is completed, the contractor will fence the opposite side of the canal along Kokea Street, city Chief Engineer Ross Sasamura said.

Where the homeless have gone is unclear. Only a handful of people could be seen Friday along Kohou Street mauka of King Street, which is outside the area being fenced.

Shirley Hilton, owner of Kahala Pacific Floors across Kohou Street from the canal, was pleased. “It’s pretty amazing,” she said, adding that there were as many as 60 to 70 people camping along the canal a week ago.

At its peak, Hilton said, the camp contained as many as 100 people.

“It’s cleaner and it feels safer,” she said.

Hilton said she’s hoping that many of the homeless made their way into shelters rather than moving into other neighborhoods.

City Councilman Joey Manahan, who put the money for the fencing in this year’s budget, is also pleased with the outcome so far, but said the effectiveness of the measure won’t come until later.

Because of the construction work, “they (the homeless) pretty much had to clear the area, Manahan said. “Hopefully, over time it will keep people out.

In recent months, in the aftermath of city efforts to roust the homeless from the area using the stored-property and sidewalk nuisance ordinances, many campers returned to the canal area.

Sasamura told a City Council committee this past week that a complaint about the deteriorating environmental conditions along the canal prompted the state Department of Health to issue a written notice about the situation to the city.

The July 27 letter, written by DOH Clean Water Branch Chief Alec Wong, noted that rubbish was being dumped into the canal and along its banks. The letter included photos of the trash. It did not demand that the city take action, and it didn’t mention any possible violations.

“From my perspective, that is the Department of Health putting us on notice that there is an issue that we have to address,” Sasamura said. “It’s not something that rose to the level of any violation, but as a responsible operator of the drainage system within our county, we have to take proper measures and precautions to make sure that the items identified are addressed.”

Janice Okubo, a Health Department spokeswoman, said city officials were already looking at ways to tackle the Kapalama encampment when Wong’s inspectors went to investigate and document the situation.

“We know that they are working on the homeless issue as well as implementing a littler reduction program that they have in place, so there’s no citation or requirement attached to the letter,” Okubo said.

The initial letter to the Health Department was written by state Rep. Karl Rhoads (D, Chinatown-Iwilei-Kalihi), who represents the area. Rhoads said he had received a complaint from a constituent complaining about the trash there.

Rhoads said he’s hoping the fence will make his letter a moot point. But he also said that the rubbish was still in the canal, and hopes the city can get to it soon.

Sasamura said, “We’re in the process of addressing that, but the most immediate priority right now is being given to the fence to prevent any further littering or illegal dumping.”

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