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State sweeps Diamond Head homeless encampments

State law enforcement agents this morning swept through 40 or so encampments on the barren slopes of Diamond Head and cited seven homeless people who remained following weeks of warnings.

There is no running water or sanitation on the makai side of Diamond Head where today’s sweep occurred. Many of the people who left before this morning’s sweep abandoned encampments that often included piles of human feces and buckets filled with urine.

The occupants included one family with a child, but most were single adults or couples, said Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator.

“This is a population largely living in isolation,” Morishige said. “These areas are very geographically spread out and separated not only by distance, but also by brush and rocky terrain. They wanted to be separate and apart and have a sense of privacy.”

There was so much discarded trash and debris that clean-up crews from a private Oahu contractor, T&M Environmental, had only been able to clear out three of the encampments by mid-day, according to Dan Dennison, spokesman for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources that oversaw today’s sweep.

“Diamond Head is Hawaii’s most iconic natural landmark,” Dennison said. “It’s not here for people to live permanently. We don’t want our state parks viewed as a place where people can set up permanent housing.”

At the same time, Dennison said, “on the flip side we have a lot of empathy for the people who find themselves in this situation, for whatever reason.”

A dozen of DLNR’s Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement officers were joined by nine workers from T&M when the sweep began at 6 a.m.

Seven homeless people who remained were cited for petty misdemeanor violations of being in a closed area. The’ve been ordered to appear in court May 3 and face maximum fines of $1,000.

This morning’s sweep followed six months of outreach by social workers to connect Diamond Head’s homeless occupants with services, including permanent housing, Morishige said.

But it’s unclear how to keep homeless people from returning to an area that has at least 15 access points carved out by humans.

“That’s still under discussion,” Dennison said. “Everyone feels we’ve got to do something so we don’t keep coming back every six months. You almost have to have someone out here monitoring 24 hours a day.”

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