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State starts clearing homeless camps along H-1 freeway

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    State-hired crews were removing remnants of homeless encampments Tuesday morning near the foot of Pali Highway.

Contractors began dismantling several homeless encampments near the H-1 freeway Tuesday, part of the state’s effort to keep areas near roadways clear of illegal encampments.

This week the state is removing encampments that are above or adjacent to the H-1 corridor from the Middle Street merge to Kahala and along Nimitz Highway from River Street to the Pearl Harbor interchange.

Six truckloads of rubbish and three truckloads of stored property were collected from several encampment sites along the corridor Tuesday.

Tim Sakahara, spokesman of the state Department of Transportation, said property will be stored by H.T.M. Contractors Inc. at an undisclosed site where individuals will have 30 days to contact the state to claim it. Unclaimed property will be disposed of, sold or donated.

The first site contractors cleared Tuesday was an encampment atop an embankment above the Punchbowl exit on the H-1 freeway.

Homeless encampments near School Street and Middle Street were among the other sites the state cleared.

“The focus right now is on the health and safety aspect,” said Sakahara, who was at the site Tuesday morning.

“The primary areas that we’re going to first are those ones above the roadway, like this one that’s on the embankment above the H-1 freeway,” Sakahara said. “Certainly, it’s not a safe place for people to be living, and we want to avoid any potential incidents as well with debris or rubbish falling down the embankment, possibly onto the roadway itself.”

Before contractors and deputy sheriffs arrived shortly before 8:30 a.m., nearly a dozen homeless people removed a majority of their tents and tarps that lined the top of the embankment behind a chain-link fence.

Outreach staff were also on-site to assist people, and a woman who was living in the area above the Punchbowl exit was transitioned to the Next Step Shelter in Kakaako, said Scott Mori­shige, the state’s homeless coordinator.

For the past few weeks, outreach workers have been notifying homeless individuals of the planned sweep. Morishige said several declined services.

Even if they choose not to go to a shelter, Morishige said, “It’s about making a connection.”

Toni Schwartz, state Department of Public Safety spokeswoman, said there were no arrests or citations issued at any of the sites.

Corinne Aipia, 56, who lived at the encampment above the Punchbowl exit for the past nine months, said she’s unsure where she will be staying after Tuesday’s sweep. “Right now I don’t know,” Aipia said.

Rent is so high, she said. “We cannot afford $1,700.”

The Transportation Department is using $4 million in funding on efforts to keep DOT properties clear of illegal encampments.

In previous sweeps, the state said, homeless people would return to sites soon after the state finished clearing the areas. This time around, Sakahara said, deputy sheriffs will periodically check properties.

“We realize it is a long corridor and it’s a big stretch of roadways from one end to another, but they’ll continually monitor to try to deter people from coming back and setting up camps,” he added.

Such enforcement will continue through August.

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