Under the threat of state Health Department fines of up to $1,000 per violation, a Kaimuki couple who used to provide meals and hot showers to homeless people around Kakaako Waterfront Park is backing down and looking for a different spot.
“We’re going to try to find another location that would allow us to do our service,” said Danica Fong-Shoji.
She and her husband, Craig Shoji, have a five-year, $400,000 contract with the city to tow their Revive + Refresh shower trailer around Oahu — while they also provide meals to the homeless out of donated money.
Since they started operations in November, Fong-Shoji and Shoji defied the city and the Health Department by making seven visits to Kakaako next to the beleaguered Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center to both feed and provide hot showers to homeless people in the area.
The city bans both of Oahu’s mobile shower operations from operating out of city parks and discourages organizations such as churches from feeding the homeless in public spaces.
The theory is that hungry homeless people in need of a hot shower are better served by going to a homeless shelter, where they will be exposed to social service workers trained in providing homeless services.
The Health Department said there are also fines of up to $1,000 per day per violation for feeding people without a so-called Special Events Permit.
In response to a story last week about Fong-Shoji and Shoji in the Honolulu Star- Advertiser, Raena Nishimura — a specialist V with the Health Department — sent them an email that said the couple could face fines of up to $1,000 per day per violation.
“If you continue to operate without a Special Event Permit, we will have to go out and issue you a cease and desist, which means all operations must stop immediately,” Nishimura said in her email to the couple. “After skimming the article and finding the City and County has not approved your operation, we will have to send out an inspector to cease all operations due to no Special Event Permit.”
Shoji underwent Health Department food safety training to qualify for a Health Department permit to serve food. And the couple received Health Department permits to feed the homeless in Waimanalo and Kaneohe — but not in Kakaako because the landowner did not give them permission, said Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo.
In the summer of 2015, more than 300 people crammed into the state parks in and around Kakaako Waterfront Park and the Children’s Discovery Center and onto city sidewalks to create one of the nation’s biggest homeless encampments, according to federal officials at the time, and led to violent crimes and unsanitary conditions.
Since then state and city officials have been working to figure out how to clear out the dozens of people who continue to live illegally in the area.
The Hawaii Community Development Authority, which oversees the state land, has been negotiating to allow access to the city to better deal with the homeless around Kakaako Waterfront Park and its sister parks.
In an email to the Star-Advertiser, Okubo wrote about Fong-Shoji and Shoji:
“The Waimanalo and Kaneohe (food) permits were approved as they had permission to vend at those sites. Permit fees are waived for those operations that feed only the homeless.
“The Kakaako SEP application was denied because the proposed ‘event’ is on property that she does not have approval to vend on.
“DOH no longer issues SEP permits to any sites that are under the control of C&C Parks, State DLNR (beaches) or other government controlled property unless they can show us that permission is first obtained.”
In an email to the Star- Advertiser, Okubo suggested that the couple’s food operation did not appear to be unsanitary.
“Ms Fong-Shoji’s food service model consists of re-serving food obtained from approved sources (Costco-Chix, hot dogs, kim chee, rice from approved restaurant, and cookies) and delivered to site within 30 minutes,” Okubo wrote. “Service is done under a pop-up tent and the event operation is only allowed for 2 hours, so temp controls are not an issue. Applicant has a temp hand-sink on site for required hand-washing with portable fresh water and waste tank.”
In an interview, Okubo said the bottom line is, “If they operate at the site without a permit, then they are in violation.”
Revive + Refresh has been to Hauula Beach Park, Nanakuli Beach Park, Pope Elementary School in Waimanalo, Kaimuki High School, Parker United Methodist Church in Kaneohe and Beretania Community Park on the edge of Chinatown.
But the couple visited Kakaako most — seven times — because they believed they were making a difference.
Now, after backing down in the face of $1,000-a-day fines, Fong-Shoji said, “Nobody’s gaining anything.”