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Homeless couple cleared from traffic median

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Leilani Espiritu and Keoki Nakanelua moved shopping carts full of their belongings from the traffic island at Atkinson Drive and Ala Moana Boulevard a little after 9 a.m. Friday.

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Rayna Brown, an IHS outreach specialist, talks with the couple that had occupied the traffic median at Atkinson Drive and Ala Moana Boulevard before they were told to move on.

At 6:30 a.m. Friday, Leilani Espiritu and Keoki Nakane­lua were sleeping soundly under a plastic tarp at the edge of a traffic median at Atkinson Drive and Ala Moana Boulevard.

The pair were oblivious to the sounds from passing cars and the prying eyes of pedestrians. They’ve spent months ignoring the complaints about their presence at the location and the size of their encampment, which included two Sam’s Club shopping carts filled with bags of recycling, cardboard liners, kitchen items, a propane tank, a grill, food, clothing and assorted mementos.

Espiritu and Nakanelua said they were drawn to the traffic triangle, which sits on state land, because it was free from the city’s park closure laws, which often result in citations and arrests for overnight campers. It also wasn’t subject to the city’s sit-lie law, which bans sitting and lying on public sidewalks.

The pair’s long stay frustrated nearby residents and Waikiki advocates, including state Rep. Tom Brower and City Councilman Trevor Ozawa. The legal loopholes that allowed the pair to remain at the median came to symbolize government’s inability to break down the silos that have contributed to the spread of homelessness on the island.

“When government doesn’t want to clear things up, they throw up roadblocks. This isn’t a jurisdictional issue, it’s a leadership issue,” said Brower, who first complained to Gov. David Ige’s homeless team about the encampment on the traffic median in November. “Sadly, sometimes you have to shame the government into doing its job. Unless it’s a big high-profile event like the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, a conservation congress or they are filming ‘Hawaii Five-0,’ we don’t clear things up. Yet, when we want to do something and put our mind to it we can solve the issue of cleanliness.”

To Brower’s point, after months of inactivity at the median, Honolulu police and state Department of Transportation workers arrived at about 9 a.m. Friday and told the pair they had to vacate their encampment.

Lives in limbo

A right of entry agreement signed that day between the city and state cleared the way for the eviction. The city Department of Facility Maintenance crews now can enforce applicable stored property and sidewalk nuisance laws on state lands on Nimitz Highway from the H-1 West onramp in Kalihi- Palama to Richards Street and then on Ala Moana Boulevard from Richards Street to Atkinson Drive, including the Atkinson/Ala Moana traffic island.

“As you know, this traffic island issue has persisted because it is on state property,” said city spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke. “DFM intends to conduct enforcement there in the coming weeks following additional service worker outreach efforts.”

Rayna Brown, a Waikiki outreach specialist for the Institute for Human Services, said the district’s unsheltered homeless clients also are bracing for added security related to the World Conservation Congress, a major international event taking place next month in Waikiki that may attract President Barack Obama as the opening-day speaker.

“We’re working to keep them informed and offer alternatives,” Brown said.

Honolulu police and park workers are also warning homeless campers at Ala Moana Beach Park that event security will require some of them to move. On Thursday, city workers posted a sign above Espiritu and Nakanelua’s encampment advising passers-by that live video would be collected from Aug. 30 to Sept. 10 as part of security efforts for the conference.

HPD Maj. Ryan Borges said police will be using traffic cameras to capture video at sites near the Hawai‘i Convention Center and Neal Blaisdell Center, which are the primary event venues.

“I know about the sign,” said Espiritu, 50, who has been homeless for 15 years. “I just don’t know where I’m going to go. I feel tired and insecure. It’s hard to move. I felt safe at the median because it was lit. If I can, I’ll try to come back.”

Security buildup

Nakanelua suggested the couple head to Ala Moana Beach Park or the Ala Wai Promenade. However, conference security extends to portions of those areas so they will likely have to continue shuffling between locations. On Aug. 5, the state reported the traffic median had been cleared, but it was reoccupied by Monday.

“Homeless outreach workers accompanied by state sheriffs have regularly visited the site to assess the unique needs of the people there, which includes significant health issues,” said Scott Morishige, the governor’s coordinator on homelessness. “Recently, for example, one individual with health concerns successfully transitioned to a shelter and is on the path to permanent housing.”

Morishige said the state and city’s coordinated response to homelessness is ongoing and not limited to the upcoming conservation congress. “It includes a focus on connecting people experiencing homelessness with health and human services and permanent housing,” he said.

But Dwayne Lacaran, who lives under a tarp at Ala Moana Beach Park, said the police presence is building. Lacaran has been packing in anticipation of a sweep, but hopes he will only get pushed to another park location.

“I’m not moving unless they force me. And, hell no, I’m not going to no shelter,” said Lacaran. “They’ve got rules and regulations and bedbugs and all that good stuff.”

He recalled when similar security measures were instituted for APEC in 2011. Outreach workers said those measures coincided with then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s 90-day plan to improve homelessness by coordinating government, nonprofits and community efforts to increase opportunities for homeless people to receive services.

Kimo Carvalho, community relations director for the IHS, which runs the state’s largest shelter, said the same parties will make cooperative strides for the upcoming conference, but they’ll evaporate without concerted effort. “We hope to use this event as a launching point for more communication and cooperation between entities,” he said.

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  • Obviously something is wrong with the Legislature, and the City Council. They cannot make the proper laws to enforce the abuse of public lands and facilities. Too much compassion for the abusers, not enough care for the public, and tourist who must endure this. This is an election year make your vote count!!

  • It is complete kaka that we live in an era where this type of behavior is condoned. I don’t care who you are or what type of hardship you may have endured. You don’t just set up camp on a traffic island and feel that you have the right to be there. These people obviously have no respect for the law, or more importantly, right and wrong. Their asses should have been physically kicked off that island months ago and thrown in jail where they belong. Blatant theives that they are using stolen property from Sam’s Club to transport their trash. We all pay higher prices because of losers like these. They’re just lucky some drunk driver didn’t take them out while they slept. Pilau.

  • That little triangle is a permanent parking spot for the homeless–right on the path of tourists going to the Park and shopping. Some permanent type of enclosure is needed. Then DH direction, Len, homeless from San Francisco, has been sitting under the light fixture for years begging.

    • How about some barbed wire and punji sticks on that traffic median.? Also use of pit bulls might motivate some of these homeless. Maybe these measures might be a little extreme but agree the City and State are way too lenient for these homeless to do whatever they want, including beating the crazp out of Tom Brewer. Also have that homeless person who says he found bedbugs in a Oahu homeless shelter show people these bedbugs. If this is true they need to clean up the bedding, but the argument that homeless cannot use the shelters because are ‘too many rules’ is BS. I agree with other posters that say use of these shopping carts is theft and all homeless who use stolen shopping carts should be arrested and all of their belonging should be destroyed as being a health hazard. Hawaii gov’t is practically encouraging people to be homeless so that they can be provided a lot of ‘free stuff’ all at Hawaii taxpayer expense. If a person is trying by finding a job and still cannot afford housing that is one thing but the homeless I see are lazy bums who can work but choose not to work. Disappointed to see people give those young adults who beg for money at the entrance of the Iwilei Costco or others places.

  • One homeless person said he won’t go to a shelter “because they got rules and regulations…”

    Well, there are rules and regulations out on the street also and he has no problem breaking those.

  • “Espiritu, 50, who has been homeless for 15 years.”

    Homelessness is a sad situation.

    However… if able-bodied people are still homeless after 15 YEARS my sympathy level drops.

    • It’s their way of life all day everyday. Too bad Obama gave $400,000,000 to Iran plus 1.3 billion in interest plus 150 billion to improve Iran. We could have used the money to build the rail, fix broken water mains, green energy, cure cancer.

      • While your comment is valid, the $400 million was Iran’s money that the U.S. had frozen (and should have kept that way). I believe we could and should have kept the interest as an “administration fee,” if you will, but could not rightfully spend the principal. The interest alone could have been better put to use in the areas you highlighted.

        • Should have kept the money as compensation for the illegal Iranian takeover of our embassy. That’s why Carter was a weak one-term president and Obama is a weak two-term president.

        • true…and Iran could be an ally of the USA if not that Israel does not want to be checked by Iran as they wish to dominate the ME. They have forced the uSA to adopt what is good for them and not us.

      • as soon as Iran took over our embassy, that $400 million should have been forfeit. this $1.7 billion Iran says we owe them and Obama wants to pay them, we should keep for the one thousand plus US soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan by Iranian made IEDs. Obama is an idiot.

  • One would think that is a dangerous place to set up camp where hundreds of vehicles pass constantly in close proximity. It would take only one errant car to result in tragic consequences.

    • Like the guy who had set up his shack by the University on ramp. Had to call the cops because buses make that turn wide and he was just right there on the corner.

  • Jail them for possessing stolen shopping carts. Bunch of lowlifes that prefer to spend their money on better food and other things rather than paying rent. Many rather not pay $500 or $1000 for shared living quarters because they don’t have to be thrifty and can buy a lot more extra food, cigarettes, alcohol etc. As long as the government tolerates such human debris.

  • Chronic homelessness is a public safety issue. If unwilling to work with outreach to get off the streets, loop holes need to be closed so laws can be enforced!

  • Be kind and supportive but they should not be allowed to live in an intersection. Convince them that a shelter is a better alternative. You have to work with these people.

  • Homelessness is only one of the symptoms of poverty. Yet, as a society, we keep reacting to the symptoms. We have to dig deeper into the causes. The mentally/physically ill and drug/alcohol addicted require comprehensive medical care. Able-bodied adults need access to jobs, temporary subsidized housing, and affordable health plans. The biggest problem, by far, is families with children. We have yet to come up with a humane yet effective plan for birth control and childcare. To break the cycle, priority has to go to the health and education of children in impoverished families. The police aren’t trained or equipped to deal with the causes of poverty, yet they are the ones we turn to for solutions. Their tools — arrest, incarceration — are meant for criminals, not for the poor who are forced into the streets because they can’t afford housing. What’s needed is a complete overhaul of our social services program. Our “kalakoa” approach isn’t working. Auwe!

    • kimo, you are so right. There are many many reasons people end up homeless. We’re too busy treating the symptoms and not the problem. However, many people have been extended their helping hands only to be rejected. Churches, government, individual private citizens….many people come out to help. But, you can only lead a horse to the water….

      • Good question, Sailfish1. I’m no expert, and I don’t have an easy answer. I don’t think there is one. For starters, though, we could better organize the effort. Instead of dozens if not hundreds of independent public and private sector programs, we may want to look at one, an umbrella organization that sets priorities, reduces administrative costs, seeks and distributes funding, and oversees subprograms. A chair could be held accountable for the entirety — a chair who would then hold her/his deputies accountable for their kuleana. Right now, no one seems to be in charge.

  • Still dealing with the homeless after all these YEARS–how much longer? Cant the CITY, STATE, & FEDERAL get together and make it ILLEGAL for this type of SQUATTING? any type of SQUATTING ANYWHERE! Have all areas OFF LIMITS / ILLEGAL — OPEN up 1 AREA –A secluded area and herd these people into this AREA–and that is it!!!
    Why the H*LL do majority of Oahu’s population have to put up with this SH*T? These people crap and piss all over the place; they stink and i would note even want to be w/in Smelling range of these people. Herd these people into a large pen AWAY from normal people that can handle the rules of society and let them live their lives there with their own kine. Why are we putting up with this? !!!!

  • Our laws concerning the chronic homeless are too lax. Rather than forcing them to move from one public place to another they need to be arrested, after being cited two or three times for illegal camping and for refusing to accept available housing. Two weeks to thirty days in jail will give them living accommodations for a while and a little time to think about the housing offer. Some (or a lot) of them may be druggies or alcoholics, so these individuals would have to have special medical accommodations provided (like more jail and forced rehab time). If they test positive for drug or alcohol abuse and have children, child neglect laws may apply and the State would have to provide foster or orphanage care homes for the children. Cost, though, may rival the rail system (?)..Tough situation would require tough laws and sanctions.

  • our lame legislators, governors and mayors are mostly to blame for this problem. you will never get rid of the homeless problem entirely. with property values so high here, there will be a number of locals who cannot afford to even rent, never mind own a home. but anyone from the mainland who comes here and immediately joins the homeless ranks, should be jailed for vagrancy and then sent back to where they came from. same with the Micronesians who are swelling the homeless population. can’t be done? sure it can. our gutless politicians just have to pass a law making it illegal to come to Hawaii just to be homeless. also, cut off all food stamp and welfare payments until at least three to six months for new arrivals. if we don’t do at least this one thing, we will never come close to ending this homeless problem.

  • It seems that, either one of the homeless is a lawyer or there are lawyers advising the homeless, on how to frustrate everyone.

    Will there be a crime for the homeless mooning people ?

  • If the couple were smart enough to work the loophole, then they are smart enough to get a job. They are just plain lazy but smart enough to work the system. When is the State & City going to wake up and stop the lazy ones from using the system.

  • Interesting article, however as of sunset tonight, Aug.14, these folks are back camping on the Atkinson divider! Gotta believe they know how to work the system better than our DOT!

  • Why wasn’t that “Right of Entry” agreement made for the entire island? No one should be allowed to live on a traffic island anywhere in this State. Typical government.

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