Starting tonight, Kakaako Waterfront Park — home to a persistent homeless population of about 50 people — will close four hours earlier indefinitely to repair an unknown number of light poles that have been vandalized to gain access to electrical power.
About a half-dozen light poles were discovered Monday with their panels removed. At least one orange extension cord and power strip had been jury-rigged to tap into the electrical grid, said Aedward Los Banos, interim executive director for the Hawaii Community Development Authority, which operates Kakaako Waterfront Park.
“Theft of utilities is a crime,” Los Banos said. “They are causing property damage.”
The vandalized poles were found near the park’s amphitheater, next to the University of Hawaii Cancer Center, where homeless people like to sleep.
In July, the HCDA closed the adjacent Mauka and Makai Gateway parks to repair landscaping and sprinkler damage allegedly caused by homeless trespassers who had taken over the parks. The initial notices said Mauka and Makai Gateway parks would be closed until Aug. 15 “or until further notice.”
Los Banos said Wednesday that both Gateway parks will remain closed indefinitely. He did not know how long Waterfront Park will close at 6 p.m. instead of the usual 10 p.m.
HCDA crews cut the power to all of the light poles in Waterfront Park and the plan is to figure out the scope of the damage before permanently sealing the poles and restoring power, Los Banos said.
Without lights, Waterfront Park is “pitch black at night,” Los Banos said. “It is a hazard.”
He did not know how much the repairs will cost or how long they will take.
The panels that block access to the poles’ internal power are affixed with special screw heads. With the panels removed, access to the wires inside was “at child height” and posed an immediate danger of electrocution, Los Banos said.
HCDA officials will monitor the effects of closing Waterfront Park four hours earlier and “we’ll be flexible” for the near term, Los Banos said.
For instance, the gates of the parking lot will likely remain open if the lot is full and the ocean is filled with people “who start their surf session at 5 p.m. after work,” he said. “We appreciate the public’s understanding and cooperation until we get this addressed.”
Steve Scott, HCDA’s vice chairman, had called for the closure of Mauka and Makai Gateway parks to repair the lawns and sprinkler systems as a way of “breaking the cycle” of sweeping the homeless only to see them return each morning.
Scott was frustrated Wednesday that damage to Waterfront Park’s light poles means the park has to close earlier.
“This is in response to some of the problems they’ve had with the homeless there tapping into the electrical outlets,” Scott said. “It’s obviously a dangerous situation.”
More than 300 homeless adults and children flooded into Kakaako in mid-2015, creating one of the largest homeless encampments in the country, according to federal officials who toured the area at the time.
Intensive outreach, along with ongoing sweeps, have since knocked the population down to as few as 30 people on some nights.
The majority of those who remain tend to be “chronic” single adults who have been on the streets for years, sometimes decades.
“There’s a problem, but they don’t know what to do with the problem,” Scott said. “It really inconveniences the public as a whole and discourages the public from going down to places like Waterfront Park. A lot of the people still out there on the streets homeless are not looking for shelters.”
As a result, “they have been tapping into the electrical outlets there in the park,” Scott said. “They have been tapping into the electrical outlets at the (Hawaii) Children’s Discovery Center. I saw someone washing their car with a hose tapped into one of the cut-off valves. Now they’re using state HCDA power to run televisions, charge telephones. It’s a drain, obviously, and costing the state and HCDA money.”