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Homeless at wits’ end over sweep

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
    City crews plan to sweep encampments on Ilalo, Ohe, Olomehani and Ahui streets in Kakaako on Thursday and Friday. Children sat in their parents’ tent Monday afternoon.
  • BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Homeless people and their belongings occupied sidewalks near the Children’s Discovery Center on Monday.
  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Oahu shelters have enough space to accommodate the roughly 100 people remaining in Kakaako, says Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator. A woman rode a bicycle along Olomehani Street on Monday.
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Some people living in tents and tarps around the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center said Monday they have no idea where they’ll go when city crews move in this week to clean out the last and densest portion of the Kakaako homeless encampment.

“I have no place to go,” said Won Yi, 50, Monday afternoon as he lay on a new pair of crutches on Olomehani Street following a recent leg injury that sent him to the Queen’s Medical Center. “What am I supposed to do?”

About 100 people, including 11 families, are believed to be left in the encampment, said Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator. The current population is just a third of the 293 people who were counted in the encampment during a census conducted the week of Aug. 3.

Oahu homeless shelters have enough space to accommodate everyone left in the encampment, Morishige said.

But none of the people interviewed by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Monday had any intention of moving into a shelter once the sweeps commence at 7:30 a.m. Thursday and again Friday.

Shelters won’t allow Wardell Silva’s 5-month-old puppy, Faith. So Silva plans to move back to Kalihi Valley.

Asked what brought him to the streets of Kakaako in the first place, Silva said, “I was trying to get off on my own, but I hit rock bottom.”

The dismantling of the encampment began Sept. 8 when a special crew from the city Department of Facility Maintenance moved in to begin the first of a series of sweeps starting with Ala Moana Boulevard and Ilalo, Cooke and Ohe streets, which border Kakaako Makai Gateway Park.

At its peak about two dozen campsites were on the outer edges around the park most of them single tents.

Deeper in the encampment, however, people have lashed together wooden pallets and plywood boards to create hardened structures that they then covered in tarps and other water-resistant materials.

Inside, people are using gas-powered generators and propane to run flat-screen TVs, camping stoves, lights and music.

A special cleanup crew from the city Department of Facility Maintenance normally brings in a garbage truck, flatbed truck and service truck, but might need to call in a second garbage truck for the last push through the encampment.

“We expect to have a lot of debris, the castoff materials and things that people leave behind, because they don’t take a lot of the trash with them,” said Ross Sasamura, director and chief engineer of the Department of Facility Maintenance. “We expect a lot of that, the heavier materials to build some of the encampments, including pallets and wood and other lumber, we anticipate will remain when people vacate.”

Homeless people have complained that during sweeps their identification and other important documents they need to get jobs and permanent housing were taken.

But city officials insist that people are allowed to claim any personal items before each cleanup.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii has sued to stop the Kakaako sweeps, arguing that the city is removing people and items from the area improperly and in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The ACLU’s motion for a temporary restraining order was dismissed, but a trial is scheduled for December.

Kakaako Makai Gateway Park remains off-limits so repairs can be made to sprinklers and other plumbing damaged as people were sleeping around the edges of the park.

On Monday crews from the Hawaii Community Development Authority, which owns land under the encampment, erected metal barricades around the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center parking lot to also keep people out this week.

Calls to paramedics and crime in Kakaako connected to the encampment have spiked as a growing number of homeless people gravitated there.

Critics blame three city laws for the size of the encampment: the separate stored property and sidewalk nuisance ordinances, and the so-called “sit-lie ban,” which makes it illegal to sit or lie down in business centers such as Waikiki, downtown and Chinatown.

At the height of Kakaako’s explosion as a major health and safety problem, state Rep. Tom Brower (D, Wai­kiki-Ala Moana-Kakaako) was attacked by a mob while photographing the encampment June 29.

In the latest high-profile incident, Jon Hatakenaka, 55, of Nuuanu has been charged with attempted murder for allegedly trying to run over a homeless man several times in the encampment Saturday morning near Ahui and Olomehani streets.

Rather than move into a shelter after the first sweep, Rannette Gouveia, 43, just packed up her belongings from Kakaako Makai Gateway Park and settled in along Olomehani Street.

Several of her neighbors on Olomehani Street told Gouveia that they plan to watch this week’s sweep from nearby Kakaako Waterfront Park before returning to the cleaned area.

But Gouveia knows that city cleanup crews, backed by plainclothes Honolulu police officers, plan to enforce trespassing violations.

“I say, ‘You’re going to get arrested,’” Gouveia said.

Asked where she plans to go Thursday and Friday, Gouveia said, “I never know where else to go. I’ll figure it out when it happens.”

Eddie Schwenke, 76, has been homeless for three years and said he keeps getting forced out of one neighborhood after another.

This week he plans to pack up his tent, suitcase and clothes yet again.

But Schwenke has no idea where he’ll end up next on Oahu.

“I just keep getting swept out,” he said, “so I just keep moving.”

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