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Homeless sweeps turn into ritual of moving and returning

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Totoa Totoa mended his wife’s bicycle tire in a tent on Ohe Street.

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Dozens of homeless people were camped on state-owned land Monday at Makai Gateway Park along Ala Moana Boulevard.

Thirty or so homeless people camping out in Kakaako’s Makai Gateway Park along Ala Moana Boulevard were packing up and preparing to be kicked out of the area in a sweep again Monday night, but — just like usual — planned to return this morning.

Notices went up on palm trees around the park Monday as Nora Ventura, 55, outlined her plans for the night:

“Everybody just goes across the street and waits until morning time and then moves right back,” said Ventura, who’s been living in the park for the last six weeks since her van was towed and she had no money to bail it out of the impound yard.

The city spent six weeks last year methodically clearing out the encampment that at one point in August accounted for 293 people living in wood-reinforced tarps and tents that wound around the University of Hawaii medical school and Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center.

While the streets and sidewalks belong to the city, all of the parks in the area are on state-owned land belonging to the Hawaii Community Development Authority.

HCDA board Vice President Steve Scott is among those frustrated that the homeless keep returning.

“If they’re given 24 hours’ notice, that’s when they move across the street,” Scott said. “That’s the frustrating part. Even though there are beds and room for them in the shelters, they will not go. We discuss the homeless situation at every meeting. We continue to have it on the agenda every month because nothing changes.”

Last year the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii sued the city in federal court and won an order that prevents city cleanup crews from immediately destroying homeless property they seize. In the aftermath, HCDA officials have been working to develop policies that will survive potential legal challenges.

In December, the HCDA began enforcing park closure hours from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. through four to five sweeps per week, “just to get people used to the idea that you cannot stay overnight in the park,” said HCDA spokeswoman Lindsey Doi. “There was a heavy push in December that tapered off in January.”

Since February, the sweeps have been conducted about once per week, Doi said.

Immediately after the city cleared out the area last year, Scott estimated, the homeless population plummeted to about 30 to 40.

“Now we’re up close to 100,” Scott said. “We’re getting back into the same situation where we were a year ago. It isn’t improving and, as a matter of fact, it’s getting worse.”

Some homeless people at night are lighting “little campfires, which is against the law, and nothing’s being done about it,” Scott said. “If you want to clear them out of the park, do it every night, if you have to, to set an example and make a statement that, ‘This is not what we’re going to accept. You’re going to have to find accommodations elsewhere.’”

Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator, disputed Scott’s numbers.

“The population fluctuates from night to night,” he said. “I think 100 is too high.”

As of Sunday night, Morishige said the population was actually 46.

“I would say it’s generally between 45 and 60 people at any given time,” he added.

At the same time, Morishige said, homeless service providers since August have relocated 230 homeless people from Kakaako into shelters or long-term housing.

But others, including the family of one of the boys allegedly involved in the June attack on state Rep. Tom Brower (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana-Kaka­ako) simply moved back to Kakaako.

“They chase us and push us around,” said Totoa Totoa, 40, whose teenage son continues to live in the encampment. “There’s a sweep tonight (Monday). We break down and go across the street. They can’t touch us there.”

Like others living in Makai Gateway Park on Monday, Les Manibog, 52, said the ongoing homeless sweeps have little effect on reducing the largest per capita homeless population in the country.

“How in the world are they going to fix this problem by pushing us around and criminalizing us?” Manibog asked. “Why is it a crime to be homeless?”

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  • If you don’t keep them on the move, it will only get worse. It’s like wiping your rear – you know it’s going to get dirty again, but you gotta clean it anyways.

  • Time to resume that “heavy sweep” again. Why did it taper off in the first place? These sweeps should be ongoing day and night. No more mister nice guy 24 hour notice, just do it. Mr. Manibog, vagrancy is a crime and you are a vagrant. It is also illegal to trespass, light campfires and vandalize public parks. You are a disgusting loser with absolutely no redeeming value.

    • I’m trying to figure out if you are simply ignorant of the facts, or you are deliberately lying. In the United States, being a vagrant is not a criminal act. Sociopaths tend to think it is, of course.

    • “Time to resume that “heavy sweep” again. Why did it taper off in the first place? These sweeps should be ongoing day and night.”
      Surfer Dude, this continues to happen because we are treating the symptom(s) of homelessness, not the cause. Many of the homeless do work. Unfortunately, they are underemployed. Many of the homeless have severe medical challenges. There isn’t a ‘One Size Fits All’ solution. That’s the real challenge when helping the homeless….trying to determine, with their help and input, what would work for their particular situation.

      • “what would work” for all of them is for them to go to the available shelters and get help there. What doesn’t work is for them to live wherever they want, do whatever they want, create an eyesore, and make a mess all over our parks, sidewalks, and streets.

  • There was a program in the 90s called weed & seed. It involved the Federal government, State(courts), and City- police. Primary target was drugs and prostitution as the “weed” portion. The “seed” portion was government programs to keep Chinatown clean. Part of the component was a geographical restrictions, imposed on prostitutes if they were arrested for the same crime after a first time arrest/conviction no jail and imposition of restrictions. It did move the problem out of town, geographically, why can’t they do something like this?

    • Have you been “DOWNTOWN” on QUEEN STREET or MERCHANT STREET or BISHOP STREET after 10PM? Do you honestly believe “THE STREET PROSTITUTION” has subsided? And, by the way, THE PROSTITUTES ALL URNINATE IN THE STREETS, SIDEWALKS, AND BUILDING ENTRIES and destroy PRIVATE PROPERTY..; and, they don’t get CITATIONS or ARRESTED. But, some poor, destitute, deranged BLACK WOMAN on Kuhio Avenue is in JAIL and held on $40K BAIL.., because she was provoked by a BIGOTED POLICE SERGEANT…

    • Weed & seed was hilarious and only functioned like a sweep. In downtown they simply moved to the street behind Longs Drugs and over to Queen street. In Waikiki they moved off Kalakaua over to Kuhio. For downtown they should have pushed the boundary to the ocean and to the freeway. For Waikiki it should have been pushed right up to the Ala Wai so that to be in the safe zone you would have to wade in the canal…

      • Yup, but it was something, better then not doing anything. If arrest them, convict them….trespassing, blocking sidewalk, what ever violation, no jail if they stay out of area, seek housing….. Sand Island, some kind of attempt. Supervised by court PO.

  • It’s coming down to put a fence around the whole park. The so called homeless czar Scott should resign his high salary post since his plan is simply no working. Another person on the state gravy train.

    • “Scott” was hired for multiple POLITICAL REASONS, but most important–“THEY” knew he was an INCOMPETENT and “THEY” could control his actions. He’s just another MOUSE on the TREADMILL… There is NO REAL DESIRE to solve THE HOMELESS issues…

    • It’s only a matter of time before a vehicle will veer out of control from Ala Moana Blvd and plow into these tents near the roadway resulting in my numerous fatalities. Then there will be “finger pointing” as to who is responsible for allowing these people to reside at the park.

  • Yup, that’s what it’s all about. Election year shibai, chutzpah, waha, smoke and mirrors. All in an attempt to get re-elected so as not to disappoint crony developers, rich folk, the contractors, the unions, and most of all the godfather of the toy choo-choo and his PRP superPAC crony John White.

    Right, cladwell?

  • Mr. Manibog, it is not a crime to be homeless but it is a crime to camp on public property without a permit. There are many law-abiding homeless citizens living in shelters. The point of these sweeps is to make your life inconvenient enough to force you to go to a shelter.

  • It seems like the state is in the hotel business. Every week the homeless get their “rooms” cleaned and they come back in and mess it up again, just like your hotel room. Kind of a sweet deal in my eyes.

  • “the June attack on state Rep. Tom Brower (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana-Kaka­ako)” There was no “attack” on “Tommy-The Sledgehammer”. It was an act of SELF DEFENSE; PROVOKED by a PSYCHOPATH…

  • I know this is easier said then done, but why can’t the City and State sync up in this issue? If the City puts out a sweep date, the State should put their dogs in the general areas to discourage settling on state lands the night or day before. I can sympathize a little for some of the homeless because they are just trying to survive. But when resources are made available and they refuse to take advantage of it, the choice of being hassled on the streets is all theirs. If that is their choice, deal with it. Make it hard for them to settle so they see the benefits of the shelters.

    • I realize that, but is it as expensive as these weekly sweeps? I don’t know. Is there a comparison of costs? The main reason why the camps move to the other side of the street is because there is nothing to discourage it. The guy pretty much says it in the article.

  • Yes the homelessness problem continues to be poorly managed by City and State officials. Thought this was proclaimed an emergency by the Gov? Steps to improve this are operating at two speeds. Stop and Slow.

  • The problem is the ACLU. What are they offering for the solution besides telling the homeless that they have rights? I have rights too but will they (ACLU) defend me if I challenge the homeless using my sidewalks and parks?

  • That guy in the picture sure has a lot of bicycle inner tubes, more than just for “personal use”. Looks like he’s operating a business out of his tent.

  • Scott said. “If you want to clear them out of the park, do it every night, if you have to, to set an example and make a statement that, ‘This is not what we’re going to accept. You’re going to have to find accommodations elsewhere.’” I agree, either go all out or don’t do anything at all. On the plus side at least sweeps provide jobs and job security and overtime for those conducting the sweeps (of course at taxpayers’ expense)just like potholes.

  • Just addressing the symptoms will not cure the problem. You need to address the root causes of homelessness, otherwise the symptoms will continue to recur.

  • The comments about homelessness are more interesting than the articles. There is no solution, no one can ever end homelessness. Only deal with it for your time in office. It already id a small industry creating jobs. Homelessness in Hawaii will grow and take a major portion of taxes. Sell & leave!

  • Scott, what are the specific persons needs…”tell the public “what does each one need ?then follow up …some answers would be unreasonable but lets help what we can…if the majority is un help-able then tell the public…may be there is no answer.

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