Even though the city and state have been teaming up to clear out the persistent Kakaako homeless encampment, one member of the board that oversees the waterfront parks says the population is growing to dangerous levels.
“Gangs are being established there,” said Steve Scott of the Hawaii Community Development Authority. “They’re vandalizing the electrical system. The homeless are going in and charging their phones and screwing up the timing of the sprinkler system. They destroyed the water valves trying to get water. The feces and other things are all back. There’s a problem with feral cats. There’s a problem with dogs. This is the same thing that concerned the police the last time: having so many people in a concentrated area.”
Outreach workers with the Kalihi-Palama Health Center reported that 50 to 60 people were living in the area Wednesday night, primarily in Mauka Gateway Park and on the sidewalks of Ohe and Olomehani streets near the Makai Gateway and Kakaako Waterfront parks, said Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator.
The numbers are less than a quarter of the 293 people who were counted in August. And some 250 formerly homeless people from the area have since been placed into shelters or permanent housing, Morishige said.
Two entered the city’s Hale Mauliola transitional housing project on Sand Island last week, Morishige said, and social service outreach workers were working to get four more homeless people out of Kakaako.
People living in Mauka Gateway Park and surrounding areas during a Wednesday night count by outreach workers
People counted in August
Formerly homeless who have been placed in shelters or housing
But as the anniversary approaches of the June 29 attack on state Rep. Tom Brower at the intersection of Ohe and Olomehani streets that drew attention to the once densely packed encampment, Scott said there could be as many as 100 people living illegally in the area on any given night.
Primarily, Scott worries that the encampment is becoming dangerous again.
“It’s just very, very frustrating,” he said.
Since December, a special city cleanup crew that clears out encampments on city property across the island has been working side-by-side with two private companies that HCDA hired to clear out its Kakaako Waterfront Park and nearby Mauka and Makai Gateway parks, HCDA spokeswoman Lindsey Doi said.
The city enforces two ordinances that apply to city sidewalks and streets in Kakaako — one regulating stored property and another addressing sidewalk nuisances. State sheriff’s deputies and two sister companies — Got Junk? and You Move Me — simultaneously enforce park closure hours inside the adjacent state-owned parks.
Homeless people had been simply crossing Ala Moana Boulevard to wait out each night’s sweep until the parks reopened at 6 a.m.
But since May 9, the city’s cleanup crew has had special permission to keep the state-owned, mauka side of Ala Moana Boulevard clear of homeless belongings, said Ross Sasamura, director and chief engineer of the city’s Department of Facility Maintenance.
Preventing homeless people from sleeping on the mauka side of Ala Moana Boulevard merely forced them to move farther Ewa on Ala Moana Boulevard during sweeps Monday and Wednesday night, according to several homeless people who were waking up in Mauka Gateway Park Friday morning.
They all said the dual city and state crackdown forced them to spend the night on either side of Ala Moana Boulevard on the sidewalks in front of either Restaurant Row or the Homeland Security building.
“They chased us all the way to Restaurant Row,” said Totoa Totoa Jr. “We just went from one side of the street to the other.”
Totoa’s 18-year-old son, Isiah, allegedly was involved in last summer’s attack on Brower (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana-Kakaako), but was not arrested. Isiah and his girlfriend also live in Mauka Gateway Park with their 8-month-old child, and his girlfriend is now pregnant with another, said Isiah’s mother, Agnes Totoa.
“My son wants to get off the streets,” Agnes said.
Charade Keane, 43, and her boyfriend, Gabriel Aio, 44, have been on the move constantly since they were swept out of Kakaako last year and had been living at Ala Moana Beach Park until they moved back to Mauka Gateway Park this month.
Keane and Aio also made the trek down Ala Moana Boulevard when the city and state cleanup crews moved in Monday and Wednesday nights.
“Everybody’s exhausted and stressed out,” Keane said. “We’re doing this back and forth night after night. It’s hard. It’s exhausting.”
Like others, John Kauaeheiwa, 22, said the combined efforts by the state and city are still not enough to get him to change his lifestyle.
“They’re trying to make us go into a shelter,” Kauaeheiwa said. “No chance. Too many rules.”
On June 1, the HCDA board will consider approving a memorandum of understanding between the state and the city that will give city cleanup crews permission to clear out the state-owned parks.
Scott remains cautious that the agreement will produce tangible results.
“I wouldn’t say I’m optimistic,” Scott said. “But at least it’s a step in the right direction to have one entity that will enforce the rules.”
As it does around the island, Sasamura’s crew responds to complaints in Kakaako from a wide variety of people, he said.
“For us, the sidewalk nuisance ordinance is the one that’s most effective in keeping walkways and sidewalks clear,” Sasamura said.
The city crew joined Got Junk? and You Move Me twice last week in sweeping the area, Doi and Sasamura said.
“We’ll be going out as often as necessary as dictated by the complaints we receive,” Sasamura said. “We get complaints coming from the public. They may be park users, people who work there, walk through the area. There’s a variety of community concerns.”
Complaints about violations of the city’s stored property or sidewalk nuisance ordinances anywhere on Oahu can be made by calling 768-4381.
While Scott worries the Kakaako encampment is growing, Doi contends the so-called “coordinated enforcement” between the state and city is working.
And Doi credited social service outreach workers for helping to persuade homeless people to move out of Kakaako and into homeless shelters and long-term housing.
“That’s a positive,” she said. “A lot more people are being placed into shelters. It’s always good to coordinate with all of the agencies. … It’s a slow progress. But we do see some progress, which is positive.”
Scott, however, remains frustrated.
“It’s been a problem that’s been ongoing for quite some time,” he said. “It’s just not right.”