An agreement is in the works between the city and the Hawaii Community Development Authority to prevent homeless people from returning to Kakaako the morning after every sweep.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell hopes an expected agreement would allow Honolulu police and a special city cleanup crew to finally clear out the persistent encampment in Kakaako that has come to symbolize the highest per capita homeless rate in the country.
The city currently enforces ordinances banning stored property and sidewalk nuisances in Kakaako but has no jurisdiction over HCDA-owned Kakaako Makai Gateway Park and Kakaako Waterfront Park. But representatives from the state attorney general and city corporation counsel are working on a memorandum of understanding that would allow Honolulu community policing officers and the city’s cleanup crew to go inside both parks.
Equally important, Caldwell said, the agreement also would allow police to prevent homeless people from camping out on the mauka side of state-owned Ala Moana Boulevard, only to return to the parks each morning following every sweep.
The agreement could take effect as early as the end of the month and run through June 30, 2017, Caldwell told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
HCDA spokeswoman Lindsey Doi said the help from Caldwell and the city is welcomed, especially the plan to prevent homeless people from camping overnight along the mauka side of Ala Moana Boulevard.
“We could use some help,” Doi said. “That’s what we’re seeing now — they migrate over from the park. If we had enforcement, granted that would be a plus.”
But experience has shown that keeping Kakaako clear of homeless encampments can be elusive, Doi said.
“You always hope you’re fixing something,” she said, “but you never know what happens until it happens.”
The encampment in Kakaako runs along the makai side of busy Ala Moana Boulevard in plain sight of tourists driving from Honolulu Airport to Waikiki.
Homeless people have been living in the area for years, but the Kakaako homeless population exploded last year after the city’s so called “sit-lie” ordinance, which bans people from sitting or lying on city sidewalks, forced people to move out of financial centers such as Waikiki, downtown and Chinatown.
A series of emergency proclamations issued by Gov. David Ige allows HCDA to spend up to $287,000 to clear and store the belongings of the homeless, who can potentially recover their property. Two sister companies — Got-Junk? and You Move Me — do the work and are backed by state sheriff’s deputies who enforce overnight park closure hours.
Caldwell told the Star-Advertiser that the city’s efforts would augment the work already underway by HCDA to make it clear that homeless people no longer will be allowed to camp overnight in the parks or on sidewalks.
“We can’t enforce there until we get permission,” Caldwell said. “If we’re in the park every night, I think you’ll see that group being disbursed.”
Before the city moves in, Caldwell said he will personally meet with every homeless person in the area and invite them to be shuttled down to Sand Island to look at the city’s Hale Mauliola complex, which houses formerly homeless people in converted shipping containers. Homeless people for the first time are allowed to live with their pets at Hale Mauliola, where the human clients receive social service help and assistance finding longer-term housing.
Homeless people who decide not to move to Hale Mauliola will no longer be welcomed in Kakaako, Caldwell said.
“We’re going to make it a lot harder to stay there,” Caldwell said. “No one has the right to be in one place at any time on property they don’t own.”
The memorandum of understanding would be similar to the one that allowed city crews last year to methodically clear out the Kakaako encampment that at one point totaled 293 people living in wood-reinforced tents and tarps around the University of Hawaii Medical School and Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center.
Dozens of homeless people moved out of the area, and some went into shelters. But uncounted others merely fanned out into Kakaako Waterfront Park and along the Kakaako shoreline and eventually made their way back into Kakaako Makai Gateway Park.
Outreach workers from the Kalihi-Palama Health Center estimated last week that about 100 people were living in the area.
Caldwell said that “consistent enforcement will break down the number.”
Allowing the encampments to spring back, Caldwell said, “brought about more violence and more crime. … The people there are pretty hard-core, pretty entrenched. It’s not very safe.”