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Mayor claims a win over Honolulu crisis

  • STAR-ADVERTISER

    State Rep. Tom Brower

  • KRYSTLE MARCELLUS / KMARCELLUS@STARADVERTISER.COM

    John Mantanona, 57, said he’s been living on the streets for five years. He maintains that the city’s homeless sweeps do more harm than good.

  • KRYSTLE MARCELLUS / KMARCELLUS@STARADVERTISER.COM

    A homeless encampment has developed at Kakaako Makai Gateway Park, near the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center.

Honolulu’s efforts last year to reduce homelessness resulted in 772 people getting off of Oahu streets, which Mayor Kirk Caldwell says represents an unprecedented success for a city struggling with the highest per-capita rate of homelessness in the country.

“That is a victory,” Caldwell told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in his Honolulu Hale office.

Despite a legal setback and the explosion of the notorious Kakaako makai encampment that resulted in a spike in assaults, ambulance trips and calls to 911 last summer, Caldwell said the state and city worked together to reduce homelessness and that there were other victories, including finding housing for 596 homeless veterans among the 772.

The city fell short of reaching what’s called “functional zero” to end homelessness for military veterans because it could not get the last remaining 51 veterans on Oahu into a system designed to find them temporary or permanent housing by the end of last year.

At the start of 2015, first lady Michelle Obama personally lobbied Caldwell during a trip to Washington, D.C., to accept the nationwide “Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness” in her husband’s hometown.

“We didn’t hit it,” Caldwell said Wednesday in an interview at his office.

But Caldwell said the challenge nevertheless spurred his administration to do more to reduce homelessness for everyone across the island, including families and children and the so-called “chronically homeless” who sometimes have mental health, alcohol and drug problems.

The Kakaako makai encampment at one point in August included 293 people living in wood-reinforced tents and tarps. It turned into a major health and safety problem after state Rep. Tom Brower (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana-Kakaako) was attacked in June while photographing the encampment.

Federal officials called the encampment one of the worst they had seen in the country, and it took the city six weeks to methodically break it down, only to see some of the homeless occupants walk next door onto state land — and eventually return to Kakaako makai.

In the aftermath the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii won a federal court challenge to get the city to store homeless people’s belongings so they can be reclaimed, instead of immediately discarding them.

Despite all of the unwanted focus on Kakaako and the ongoing presence of dozens of tents and people along the Kakaako shoreline, Caldwell maintains the city’s sweeps — what he calls “compassionate disruption” — are working.

The efforts to clear out homeless encampments is just one part of an overall strategy that Caldwell envisions to move people into shelters, then into transitional housing such as the new Sand Island Hale Mauliola “navigation center” built out of refurbished shipping containers. From there, Caldwell wants formerly homeless clients to go into so-called Housing First apartments where they’re allowed to drink alcohol and use drugs while getting social service help to deal with their issues.

Caldwell hopes they eventually move into long-term or permanent housing, freeing up transitional and temporary housing for others coming off of the streets.

It begins by breaking up encampments and keeping city sidewalks clear of tents and tarps.

“Fewer people are getting beat up and assaulted,” Caldwell said of Kakaako makai. “Is it resolved? No. Is it better? Yes.”

Caldwell’s assessment is not universal.

“They didn’t accomplish anything,” said John Mantanona, 57, who moved back to Kakaako makai after a sweep last year, one of a dozen times Mantanona said he was chased around the streets of Kakaako in 2015.

Mantanona rolled a cigarette as he sat on the grass of Kakaako Makai Gateway Park near about 50 other homeless people who last week were occupying the Hawaii Community Development Authority’s park between the University of Hawaii medical school and the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center.

Mantanona and his friend Douglas Sencio, also 57, said the city’s and state’s ongoing sweeps only waste money and resources — and make homeless people like them hardened.

“It makes no sense,” Sencio said.

As he stood next to a “no trespassing” sign taped to a tree, Mantanona said, “We’ve complied with everything they’ve asked. For what? They’re crushing us. Help us.”

Council Chairman Ernie Martin said he was “disappointed” by the Caldwell administration’s homeless efforts last year, including a missed opportunity to buy the old Hilo Hattie property on Nimitz Highway and convert it into a homeless shelter.

And all of the manpower that was focused on the Kakaako makai encampment produced few lasting results, Martin said.

“It was nice for a day,” he said. “It should have never gotten to that state. It was very disgraceful … to have allowed it to happen. … Despite our best efforts, we’re losing the battle.”

Last summer, people across Oahu ranked homelessness a distant fourth in importance, according to the results of the Hawaii Poll conducted by Ward Research Inc. for the Star-Advertiser. But the latest Hawaii Poll, conducted between Dec. 28 and Jan. 9, found that homelessness had risen to become the most important issue facing Oahu. Honolulu’s rail project ranked a distant second.

“It looks like now there’s more attention paid to the seriousness of homelessness,” Brower said.

Brower and others contend last summer’s attack on him in Kakaako makai helped turn public perception and forced state and city officials to do more.

Homelessness “is everywhere,” Brower said, adding, “For the people who come here, that’s what visitors talk about. But people also now realize that we can fix this.”

Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator, said, “I believe that we’ve started to make some real progress.”

The state and city are working together, Morishige said, as are social service agencies that now share a uniform database of Hawaii’s homeless and regularly meet to discuss individual clients.

All of the data and outreach efforts “helped us better understand the needs of the homeless populations and encampments that previously have been difficult to tackle,” Morishige said.

For homeless families living in Kakaako makai, the data collected by social workers showed that a typical family of four earned barely more than $500 a month, which Morishige called “a very deep level of poverty.”

So the families were steered into programs to help them manage their finances and save money for rent, Morishige said.

Homeless people also revealed “barriers to get into homeless shelters,” Morishige said, which explained why so many shelter beds remain empty while people continue to live outdoors.

“We started to provide bus transportation to get to shelters,” he said. “We worked with (shelter) providers to increase their hours of access, rather than asking them (homeless clients) to leave during the day.”

By targeting individual needs, Morishige said, programs aimed at providing one-time rental deposits and other financial assistance in just the past two months resulted in 20 homeless people from Kakaako getting into housing aimed specifically at families with young children.

“Going directly into shelters isn’t necessarily the best path for everyone,” Morishige said. “Homelessness is very complex. Homelessness doesn’t look the same from one person to another. Each circumstance is unique.”

Volunteers and outreach workers fanned out across Oahu last week trying to get an accurate “point-in-time count” of the island’s homeless population, which is part of simultaneous counts conducted around the country.

Last year’s point-in-time count identified 4,903 homeless people on Oahu compared with the 4,712 who were counted in 2014. Statewide a total of 7,620 homeless people were counted last year compared with 6,918 in 2014.

If the 2016 numbers that come out later this year show an increase, Morishige said, the higher count will be the result of better outreach by social workers who now emphasize getting to know every homeless person by name.

But despite housing 772 formerly homeless people last year — a number tallied by the city — Caldwell is bracing for the possibility that the number of people still homeless on Oahu could increase this year.

“I’m cautiously pessimistic the number will go up,” he said.

HOMELESS HIGHLIGHTS FROM 2015

January

>> Annual homeless “point-in-time count” tallies 4,903 homeless people on Oahu, up from 4,712 in 2014. Statewide, 7,620 homeless people are counted across the islands, up from 6,918 the year before.

>> The Hawaii Poll finds that homelessness on Oahu ranks fourth on a list of important issues for respondents.

>> First lady Michelle Obama persuades an initially reluctant Mayor Kirk Caldwell to join the nationwide “Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness” by the end of 2015. The city falls short of the goal, but Caldwell later tells the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the yearlong challenge pushed his administration to do more to reduce homelessness for all homeless people on Oahu, not just veterans.

>> Fewer homeless people are seen in Waikiki as the effects of the city’s 4-month-old “sit-lie ban” for financial districts begins forcing homeless people into other communities, especially neighboring Kakaako. Residents from Diamond Head to the North Shore report increasing numbers of homeless people in their neighborhoods. City Council members are pressured by businesses and residents to enact sit-lie bans for their districts, resulting in bans in 24 areas from Hawaii Kai to Haleiwa. A proposal for an islandwide sit-lie ban is defeated.

June

>> State Rep. Tom Brower (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana-Kakaako), right, is attacked while photographing the burgeoning Kakaako makai homeless encampment that encircles the University of Hawaii medical school and Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center.

July

>> An overwhelming majority of Oahu residents — 73 percent — tell the Hawaii Poll that the island’s homeless problem has gotten worse over the past 12 months. Some 62 percent of respondents say they would support a temporary shelter in their own neighborhoods if it helps reduce homelessness on Oahu.

>> Caldwell asks church leaders to house a homeless individual or family on their property and pledges to provide a converted shipping container for free, deliver, install it, clear any permitting issues and work with social service workers to address any problems. No church leader steps up.

>> Crime statistics reveal that assaults skyrocketed in the Kakaako makai homeless encampment from January to June.

>> Gov. David Ige forms the Governor’s Leadership Team on Homelessness, and he and Caldwell vow to work together to address homelessness.

>> Homeless people forced out of Waikiki by the city’s “sit-lie” ban move mauka on Kapahulu Avenue to a growing encampment on state Department of Transportation land across from Market City Shopping Center, which reports an increase in vandalism and destruction of its bathrooms costing thousands of dollars to repair. Nearby businesses report finding human feces in front of their storefronts. A DOT crew cleans out the encampment, only to see homeless people return hours later.

August

>> A survey of the Kakaako makai homeless encampment counts 293 occupants — including 31 families — living in wood-reinforced tents and tarps. Some occupants use gas-powered generators to run flat-screen TVs, stereos, laptops and cellphones.

>> Matthew Doherty, head of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, tours the Kakaako makai encampment and tells the Star-Advertiser that it’s “one of the larger ones I’ve seen.”

>> Caldwell signs a bill intended to add pressure on the persistent Kapalama Canal homeless encampment by making it illegal to put anything into the fetid drainage canal. Following a sweep and cleanup, more than 30 homeless tents and tarps immediately go back up. City crews later erect a 4-foot-high, mile-long chain-link fence to deter people from camping along the banks of the canal.

September

>> A special city cleanup crew begins the six-week process of clearing out the Kakaako makai encampment. It takes longer than expected because of the tons of debris that are left behind as the homeless occupants move out. Some of the homeless enter shelters. Others walk across the street to Kakaako Waterfront Park and set up camp along Kewalo Basin shoreline.

November

>> Following a court challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and Honolulu law firm Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing, U.S. District Judge Helen Gillmor orders city officials to stop the immediate disposal of homeless property they seize so it can be reclaimed by their owners.

>> Ige and Caldwell team up to urge Oahu landlords to rent to low-income and homeless tenants to help reduce homelessness. In response, more than 80 landlords agree to help.

December

>> A plurality of registered voters on Oahu tell the Hawaii Poll between Dec. 28 and Jan. 9 that homelessness is now the island’s most important issue. Honolulu’s rail project ranks a distant second.

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  • What rock does this guy live under? There’s been no improvement in most areas of the island, maybe the high class neighborhoods he visits, but nowhere else. There are tons of homeless in the hills, out of sight. Try going up to Waahila, or the park at 16th and Koko Dr in Kaimuki. We already know about the airport/Keehi Lagoon areas and Wahiawa. They are only checking the parks and other visible areas.

    • Go down to Ala Moana Blvd right now. The homeless are back. The tents are still there. What the heck is Kirk “Baghad Bob” Cadwell smoking? He went borrow his daughter’s bong or what? He nevah do jack my brothers.

    • What a liar! Caldwell screwed up the homeless issue, lied about rail (and continues to lie) and now takes credit for all of it. We need to get rid of this guy.

    • Our City Council continues to allow high rise big big money ventures while the planning department does nothing against illegal short term rentals. When are the politicians going to realize the homeless problem is their doing?

    • These Politicians are a disgrace, they don’t do anything to fix a problem unless they can somehow benefit from it personally by directing the tax dollars spend to a campaign contributor. Hawaii has got to be the most politically corrupt state in the union. The Democrats and the special interest groups that fund their campaigns are bleeding this state slowly but surely. We’re up to at least 5 billion in unfunded entitlement liabilities for public workers. We’ll end up with a 10% GE tax to pay the unions.

    • REMEMBER: He has a new B.S. ARTIST as his Press Agent. And now, Brower is touting himself as the “Martyr” of Honolulu–“SAINT THOMAS OF THE SLEDGEHAMMER”…

    • Allow me to laugh, Caldwell. If that is a victory I wonder how a defeat against homelessness looks. Nothing whatsoever has been accomplished other than money wasted. The ranks of the homeless have not been reduced because daily more of them who choose this lifestyle are appearing.

    • He needs to get out in the sun and then maybe he’ll see whats going on with the homeless. All he’s done is push them from one place to the other. Clearing them from areas of business and pushing them into the residential area’s. He in the office too much breathing all that bad air, plus he’ll get a tan if he gets out.

    • Agree. Caldwell is a shibai artist. But a bad one. Everyone can see his daily failures. Old man snake eyes is still what he always been: a dishonest man who cannot face his ineptitude.

    • Start a petition to raise taxes to pay to house the homeless. Short of that comments from politicians who hold the purse strings like probable Mayoral candidate Ernie Martin are meaningless.

      • Building housing for the homeless will never reduce their ranks. Instead hundreds thousands will flock here from the mainland to live here for free at our expenses.

        • can you say “fake out”? in political speak, it was merely a head fake meant to throw the detractors off their game. there was never a meaningful attempt at stopping the rail fiasco! too many people being paid off! we know it! and they know it! and they know we know it! but the politicos have the upper hand in all the levels of government. never mind what the majority of the people want as long as they can continue to spew the rhetorical lies to support the erroneous basis the entire project was founded. never mind the over-burdening costs to everyone and everything to continue this theft of a tax! THE PEOPLE BE DAMNED!!!!

      • agree. I biked down to the Aloha Tower this weekend and saw 3 men and one woman urinating against a wall. One said, “this is in honor of da mayor.” I sped away quickly.

        • In face of a problem you ran. Did you call HPD? You were close enough to hear a conversation. Easy to be criticall.

  • Victory???? Are they nuts. I drove from Kalihi to Waikiki this weekend and saw more people living in the streets than ever. Its incredible to see this happening to our beautiful city. It is time to wake up and deal with this problem without worrying about being politically correct. Declare parks and sidewalks off limits to camping, sleeping and loitering. Then inforce it! The State is playing musical chairs with our homeless and throwing good money after bad.

  • Tell Kirk lay off the daughters bon g, I just saw homeless vets, with signs saying they are vets, panhandling for donations at Liliha and N School, Costco entrance at Iwilei, along Vineyard and along Nimitz Hwy underneath the viaduct. If they found shelter and help why are they panhandling for money? Rhetorical question, homeless shelter do not provice booze, drugs and smokes and they need buy that stuff using cash given to them by motorists stopped at the light and feeling sorry for them. Many look like former vets amd if they are that is really sad, but for Kirk to claim success is pathetic. Anyone with a car driving on Oahu amd two eyes can see the homelesss problem on Oahu is just as bad as before. Maybe some are staying at shelters to sleep at night but seems many new ones are comimg in onto Oahu streets to take their place.

    • Nope. I notice a decrease in Vets panhandling. Trouble is that more vets get out of the military every day than get off the streets. It could be much worse if not for a reduction of about 800 last year.

    • I doubt many of the people with vet signs are really vets. I have complained to Costco since these people are on Costco property. I’ve also seen a van dropping off people to beg at various locations and then picking them up later in the day. Sounds like a scheme.

  • I might say that around the tourist areas of Waikiki there has been a lot of improvement but they just moved to the outskirts. Look at the bus stop by the Ilikai or the McDonald’s across the street or the Blvd to Atkinson. The sweeps are like using a blower to move the leaves–they don’t disappear!

    • Yes, on reelection or running for Governor when Ige finally falls on his face, then national office, then President, and then dictator of the whole world.

  • “They’re crushing us. Help us” Well, how about trying to help yourself? The city offer you shelter but one cannot be help if one doesn’t want it. Take some responsibility for a change. Do you really want to live on the street like a second rate citizen all your life? I’m sure it’ll be a hardship compare to just taking handouts and free money from the tax payers but in the end it will be worth it.

  • Unbelievable. I mean literally unbelievable. I don’t believe anything this guys says anymore One side of his mouth is moving but words are coming out the other side.

  • Is he crazy? Come out of that office once an awhile and give your endless photo-ops a break and join us in the real world. There is no victory here.

      • You voted for this mess and continue to make excuses. Come on man the VA is a mess under Obama and are not taking care of the vets. The 1% you refer to, could that include Soros, Steyer and maybe even the Clinton crime family. Wake up, you are supporting this nonsense!

  • How is it a success if the numbers are still going up? I guess Kirk is grasping at anything to cover his tracks in the Great Rail Debacle and HART’s mismanagement of the project. Anyway you slice it, his mayorship has been a failure.

  • Celebrating a false victory, “That is a victory,” Caldwell told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in his Honolulu Hale office.”

    No Kirky boy, no victory yet. You can only claim victory if these people stay off the streets, not to return. Lets wait for one year and see how many are still of the street, did not return. And yes, we have to count new street arrivals which means you still have more work to do.

    Any progress is good, helping people start over. Will not be easy, will not be quick.

  • Surely the phony mayor is mistaken. That was the amount of new homeless that he caused with his excessive jacking of the water, sewer, and property taxes.

  • all the complaints here about how the city and state are doing to deal with homelessness are silly. if they believe they can do better then do it and stop complaining. it is very difficult to help someone if they absolutely refuse help and many of the chronic-homeless refuses and help and just want to live on the streets and parks. this is a health and safety issue. how do we deal with these folks many of whom have mental and behavioral issues, drug and alcohol addiction. they are unable to think clearly for themselves. those homeless folks who accepted help and have gone to transitional, temporary and permanent housing are a win and we should focus on these people who are open to help. but the real problem are those recalcitrant homeless who refuses any help. how do we deal with them, by using firm encouragement. case workers from the state or public charity should be assigned to them and allow these folks to make reasonable decisions for the homeless; they cannot be allowed to live like animals in squalor – this is not compassionate.

    • They want to live their own life. Help is available — all they have to do is show some will power and ask. All addictions can be cured. Mental illness is a harder nut to crack.

  • Caldwell’s declaration of homeless ‘victory’ is utter nonsense. but frankly, I have my own economic concerns and the City And State raising taxes all over the place — excise tax surcharge, increase in property taxes, increase in gas taxes, etc. etc. as well as the Governor’s ridiculous 100% alternative energy goal and timetable and increasing housing and electricity rates accompanied with the Obama Administration’s zero inflatio declaration for social security is going to break me.

  • Ernie Martin is trying to give the city a black eye for the efforts the mayor has done. Ernie has only been grandstanding or blocking genuine efforts while he did NOTHING!

  • and da beat goes on….how about the Waikiki hotels mafia that got the Mayor to jump and sweep the homeless out of Waikiki step up to the plate and be part of the solution and start contributing some of the record profits for the last two year towards outreach, services and training programs for the homeless that want to work.. The Waikiki boys continue to brag about record profits, revenues, hotel room occupancy high rates…they have one of the best job training programs for entry jobs like housekeeping, janitorial, light maintenance, landscaping, restaurant service…perfect kind jobs for those homeless that want a job…with Hawaii experiencing record low unemployment rate below 5%, such service sector vacant jobs need to be filled…how about the Mayor , Waikiki hotels, Waikiki Improvement Assn and Hawaii Hotel and Lodging Assn (where is Mufi wen we need him) sign an agreement to hire at least 300 homeless in 2016 after they complete their job training program..win win for everyone….Will Kirk have the guts to have his Waikiki boys help out, esp since it is an election year for Mayor….

    • Met some annual visitors this week end. They commented on how bad the homeless situation had become. Only a matter of time until tourists start to look for other options. Cuba comes to mind. Much closer for all but West Coast market. May take 5 years for the Cuba infrastructure and political issues to be fixed. They will have casinos, beaches, novelty and lower costs. Not many homeless there.

  • Victory, no! Improvement yes. They need an area of refuge where they can sit and act stupid. Then slowly integrate them. And the Vets should be taken care of by the Feds!

  • Let’s not forget about the organizations and people who also work hard every day to address this problem. It would do everyone well if we get more feedback from these people regarding their ideas on how best to deal with these issues. Seen some media coverage, but imo, not anywhere near enough.

    Government should direct our tax dollars the right way and provide more support to these organizations. Frankly speaking, keep the public better informed, spend monies the way it should be spent addressing homelessness, instead of the Mayor just tooting his own horn. If this is already being done, let’s hear about it.

  • I don’t go to the downtown COSTCO because of the homeless and pan handlers near the entrance/exit of the parking lot, seems like the downtown area is getting worse not better. All the PR expertise this mayor buys won’t get him elected.

  • Now tell me how many homeless do we have out there? Bet the number is about the same. A win is when you take a person off the list and another one don’t take his place.

    • It will be reported that there will be less than last year’s count because of the lack of volunteers to count them. The Mayor will then claim “victory” in reducing the homeless population. Stay tuned.

  • The homeless situation only get worse. The whole downtown Chinatown area smells awful. There are tons of tents in the park by Beretania and Smith street. The Sit-Lie ban is just a joke. There are poopoo by iolani palace fence and traffic light pole by crosswalk Beretania and Bishop. Some unfortunate people stepped on it. If I were a tourist I won’t come back again to visit such a dirty and smelly place. Can they just build some public restroom in downtown to get our city cleaner?

  • Caldwell is all shibal. The roads are WORSE than ever. MORE potholes, while he worries about bicyclists who refuse to use HIS bike lane. Caldwell = one and done…aloha.

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