A group representing some of Kakaako’s homeless asked Mayor Kirk Caldwell on Thursday for a temporary reprieve from getting swept, but the city says that’s a nonstarter.
“No, we’re not going to suspend the enforcement of our laws,” Marc Alexander, executive director of the city’s Office of Housing, told the Honolulu Star- Advertiser on Thursday. “We have park closure laws, we have sidewalk laws.”
Alani Apio, a member of Hui Aloha, wrote an Island Voices commentary in Thursday’s Star-Advertiser about successful efforts to move homeless people away from the Hawaii Children’s Discover Center and into Kakaako’s Mauka Gateway Park, which lines Ala Moana Boulevard. Apio then helped organize a news conference Thursday about Hui Aloha’s efforts, including ongoing cleanups, then rode with Kakaako homeless representative John Ka‘ulu- pali to deliver a letter to Caldwell asking him to meet with representatives of Kakaako’s homeless and to temporarily suspend an expected sweep in the area.
The efforts by Hui Aloha on behalf of Ka Po‘e o Kakaako — “The People of Kakaako” — represent the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of Kakaako’s homeless population, which exploded to more than 300 people in the summer of 2015 following enforcement of the city’s “sit-lie” law, which began in nearby Waikiki.
State Rep. Tom Brower (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana-Kakaako) was then beaten by a mob while photographing the encampment in June 2015, which led to an ongoing crackdown ever since.
On Thursday, for example, Honolulu police and state sheriff’s deputies swept homeless encampments along Ilalo Street directly in front of the University of Hawaii medical school while a dozen or so people were in and around Kakaako Mauka Gateway Park.
On Jan. 16 Loretta Yajima, CEO and board chairwoman of the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center, wrote a Star-Advertiser Island Voices commentary in which she complained about “Drug dealing, intimidation, violence, crime, filth and an overriding disregard for others. …
“Given the unsupportable loss of attendance, I will be meeting with our board of directors about the possibility that, unless the problem is unresolved swiftly, we might have to close the center,” Yajima wrote.
She did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.
Ten days after Yajima’s op-ed appeared, homeless people joined other volunteers to clean up the area around the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center and urged the homeless occupants to move to nearby Kakaako Mauka Gateway Park and live under self- imposed rules, according to Hui Aloha.
Apio is also working with Twinkle Borge, leader of the 270-person homeless encampment next to the Waianae Small Boat Harbor known as Pu‘uhonua o Waianae, which has reached a truce with the state while searching for Leeward land to build a permanent community.
Following a cleanup Saturday in front of the Children’s Discovery Center, Hui Aloha said residents of Pu‘uhonua o Waianae brought lunch for the cleanup volunteers.
“The houseless residents of Kakaako Gateway Mauka are a positive force in the greater Kakaako region,” according to the letter given to Caldwell on Thursday. “When the houseless residents of Kakaako Gateway Mauka learned of the distress experienced by Children’s Discovery Center, they decided to extend their weekly cleanup efforts to the area around the center. They also asked the houseless people camped around it to move away, so they would not interfere with its business. … The sweep planned for this week will set back all the progress made thus far. Furthermore, forcing houseless residents out of Kakaako Gateway Mauka will push them into the surrounding neighborhood, perhaps back into the area surrounding the Discovery Center, Mother Waldron Park, and other areas that have recently been cleared.”
Alexander, head of the city’s Office of Housing, said Caldwell’s administration has “gratitude and appreciation for any community group that is working with our homeless community and helping them to clean up their areas and encouraging them to move into a shelter and take advantage of services. … That’s a positive.”
But Alexander said it’s unhealthy for people to live in conditions that are “not fit for habitation,” such as sidewalks and parks.
“We have shelter spaces,” he said. “There’s plenty of space for those who want to avail themselves.”
Alexander said social service outreach efforts continue in and around Kakaako Mauka Gateway Park, along with what the city calls “enforcement actions.”
The current situation with people living on Kakaako sidewalks and parks, Alexander said, “looks terrible to me. As a community member it’s terrible.
“Advocating to keep people in places unfit for human habitation,” Alexander said, “that’s not right.”