Efforts underway in Hawaii Kai to clear dense foliage from areas where homeless people are suspected of camping out are stoking worries that the homeless might end up encroaching on residential areas.
“These people are going to be looking for other areas, and they’re going to be going into the neighborhoods,” said Elizabeth Reilly, vice chairwoman of the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board. “If you clear them out of one area and the encampment is now exposed, they move.”
She added, “All we’re doing is kicking the can down the road.”
Earlier this year people were seen “disappearing” into 3 acres of overgrown vegetation along Hawaii Kai Drive that belong to the Hawaii Kai Marina Community Association, said marina manager Beverly Liddle. Subsequently, 20 encampments were discovered in the brush.
“They had kitchen tables and cooking equipment and little treehouses,” Liddle said. “It was quite elaborate. We discovered it quite by accident.”
Honolulu police were notified, and the occupants were given weeks to pack and leave, which they did about three months ago. Some of the homeless campers then migrated to Hawaii Kai Marina Community Association land on Keahole Street near the “kiss-and-ride” parking area and the Hawaii Kai Dog Park, Liddle said.
Liddle said no more than “a handful of complaints,” including “using bad language at night and fighting,” have surfaced at that area.
There is plenty of confusion in Hawaii Kai about the scope of its homeless population and what to do about it.
This month state Rep. Gene Ward (R, Kalama Valley-Queen’s Gate-Hawaii Kai) formed the Hawaii Kai Homeless Task Force. He said the number of homeless people in Hawaii Kai “could vary from 20 to 50 in various places,” and he added that he would like to see a survey conducted.
With homeless people being pushed out of Waikiki, downtown and Chinatown because of the city’s “sit-lie ban” and separate ordinances that prohibit blocking sidewalks or storing properly illegally, Ward said Hawaii Kai “is getting a lot of the overflow from Waikiki.”
“We’ve got to move on this thing,” he said. “It’s getting out of control and it’s time to act.”
But Michael Yoshikawa, 47, who has been living along the water’s edge near the dog park on Keahole Street for two years, said the estimated number of homeless people in Hawaii Kai is greatly exaggerated. He said only one other homeless person lives near the site where he lives with his girlfriend.
On Friday Yoshikawa said he has been hired to pick up trash along the shoreline, and he’s happy to show residents that not all homeless people cause problems.
“There are people who want to help us,” Yoshikawa said, “and there are people who just want us out of here.”
In response to community concerns about homeless encampments on its property, Kamehameha Schools just spent nearly $35,000 to have a contractor clear brush and garbage from its 2-acre parcel along Hawaii Kai Drive near the post office.
Even so, R. Kalani Fronda and Todd Gray of Kamehameha Schools’ Community Engagement &Resources Group — who showed the newly cleared area to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Friday — said there has not been a homeless encampment on the property in at least three years.
More likely, Fronda and Gray said, Hawaii Kai residents probably mistook a popular party spot for young people hidden among the kiawe for a homeless encampment.
When Nohonani Landscape LLC knocked down all the brush, a circle of lounge chairs and garbage were left behind. Even if homeless people were hiding out in the foliage, Gray said, no one knows where they went next.
“We know that chasing them out of one area means they go to another area,” he said.
Kamehameha Schools also owns a vacant parcel on Keahole Street, which it’s also been asked to clear out of concerns over homeless activity, Kamehameha Schools spokesman Kekoa Paulsen said.
Over the past year, while area residents have brought concerns about homelessness encampments to the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board, no specific complaints of crime or harassment have surfaced, said board secretary Rene Garvin.
Hawaii Kai residents “just come to the neighborhood board and complain” about homeless-related problems, Garvin said. “It is a divisive issue.” Among the more potentially daunting problems, she said: “There isn’t anywhere for them to go. This is larger than just Hawaii Kai.”
Asked about the most serious complaint lodged against Hawaii Kai’s homeless, the neighborhood board’s Reilly paused and then recalled seeing some apparently homeless people scrounging through Goodwill donations that they left strewn about.
“It hasn’t gotten too far,” Reilly said. “That’s the closest thing I’ve seen.”
Board Chairwoman Natalie Iwasa has heard lots of numbers thrown around about Hawaii Kai’s homeless population, but she’s seen only three people she maintains are homeless, usually along Kalanianaole Highway.
But anxiety, tied to the opinion that a homeless population that’s been largely hidden is now coming out in the open, is continuing to grow.
“People are just concerned,” Iwasa said. “Some people say, ‘Just get them out of here.’ Some are wondering if there’s some way to help these people.”