Homeless roused in pre-dawn sweep
Hawaii News

Homeless roused in pre-dawn sweep

  • DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Johnny Kaawa and Samantha Rodrigues were displaced by Tuesday’s sweep at Kewalo Basin. Rodrigues, 19, said she’s been homeless for eight years.

The state initiated a sweep well before daylight at Kewalo Basin Park on Tuesday, rousting the homeless from their encampments starting at 2 a.m.

Enforcing park closure hours — 10 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. — the encampments on state land overseen by the Hawaii Community Development Authority were dismantled.

Signs have been posted since late October around Kewalo Basin and Kakaako Waterfront Park to notify park users of closure hours, according to state homeless coordinator Scott Morishige. Within the past week HCDA and social service providers also informed campers that enforcement would soon begin.

Last week social service outreach workers estimated that 180 homeless people were lining the Kakaako shoreline from Kewalo Basin to Point Panic to Kakaako Waterfront Park. The majority were in the park’s amphitheater, next to the University of Hawaii Cancer Center.

State sheriff’s deputies Tuesday arrested two men and a woman for outstanding warrants and bail violations, said Toni Schwartz, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety.

It’s unclear how many homeless people were at Kewalo before the sweep.

“Because some were in the process of breaking down (tents), it was difficult to get an accurate number,” Morishige said. “The number really fluctuates.”

“We plan to continue enforcement of our closure hours on a continuous basis,” said Morishige, who was on-site during the sweep and said social service and outreach providers from the Institute for Human Services and the Kalihi Palama Health Center were also there to assist the homeless.

The encampments exploded in size as the city spent six weeks clearing out the nearby “Kakaako makai” encampment that in August included 293 homeless people.

Tuesday’s sweep was a multiagency joint effort involving the HCDA, Department of Public Safety, city and social services as well as outreach providers.

The state partnered with the city to provide buses for anyone who wanted to go to a shelter. Morishige said only one person pursued that option and was transported to the Institute for Human Services and enrolled in the state Housing First program.

“At the end of the day, our ultimate goal is really to get individuals off the streets and into permanent housing,” he added.

Personal items left behind were picked up by a private contractor and stored at an undisclosed warehouse. Morishige declined to identify the contractor, saying he wanted to ensure the safety of employees.

Items not picked up by the contractor for storage were collected by workers of the Waikiki Health Center and Kewalo Harbor and were to be discarded.

Justin Chang, a Kewalo Harbor maintenance employee, helped load the bed of a white pickup truck with wooden pallets and at least half a dozen bicycle tires that had been left near the shoreline. He said he supported the sweep but also empathizes with the homeless. “I feel for these guys,” Chang said.

While the sweep was underway, a small group of homeless people waited outside the park on the sidewalk with their belongings, and planned to return to the site after the effort wrapped up.

“This is just ridiculous,” said 19-year-old Samantha Rodrigues, who had been living at the park for nine months.

She said she has been homeless since she was 11 years old and had lived on the streets for several years before she moved to Kewalo. “This was the last place I felt safe,” she said.

The state plans to convert a vacant, 5,000-square-foot shed into a homeless shelter next to the UH Cancer Center in February.

Sitting at a picnic table at Kewalo, a woman who declined to give her name broke down in tears, frustrated by the sweep. “Fo’ real, where the (expletive) are we going to go?” she asked. She said she has been looking for a job, but getting hired has been a challenge because of her criminal record.

Blake Yafuso, 58, who surfs at Kewalo Basin weekly, said the sweep was long overdue. The homeless obstructed the park’s walkways and left rubbish throughout the grounds. “The bathrooms would be a mess. It wasn’t a good location to bring your family,” he said.

Yafuso, an electrical contractor, is a member of the Friends of Kewalos, an organization comprising recreational users who help take care of the park grounds. Although he sympathizes with the homeless and their struggles, Yafuso said, “If they took care of the land, took care of the location, it wouldn’t have been as bad.”

Everyone should abide by the park hours, he said. “For us, we respect the times that the park is open and closed. Everybody should respect that,” he said.

Staff writer Dan Nakaso contributed to this report.

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