A deputy prosecutor and a deputy public defender, normally adversaries in court, have joined forces with the growing number of police officers and outreach workers taking to the streets, sidewalks and parks to make personal contact and offer services directly to the homeless in tackling one of Oahu’s most intractable problems.
Deputy Public Defender Antoinette Lilley and Deputy Prosecutor Mark Tom this week became part of a movement by agencies and organizations looking for ways to help the homeless — many of whom remain on the streets despite widespread and frequent sweeps, intermittent closures of parks and other encampment areas, a city sidewalk ordinance and other enforcement actions aimed at forcing them into shelters and into accepting help.
The latest effort in the shift toward one-on-one assistance came Wednesday as Lilley and Tom joined 10 Honolulu Police Department officers and 40 social workers and others who fanned out on foot across Kakaako and Ala Moana Regional Park to offer shelter and other services to homeless people.
Lilley and Tom work together in Community Outreach Court, a 2-year-old Judiciary program aimed at homeless people accused of nonviolent, low-level offenses, such as violating park closure hours.
At each court appearance the “participants” — they’re never referred to as “defendants” — have access to social service organizations that work with them on various issues such as getting government-issued IDs that are needed for housing and jobs.
Lilley has been representing the Public Defender’s Office in Community Outreach Court for only a month, but she’s already joined Tom, social workers and police officers in homeless outreach efforts in Makiki, Wahiawa, Waianae, Waimanalo and the city’s Punawai Rest Stop in Iwilei.
“We go out several times a week,” Lilley said. “We want to reach everyone we can because homelessness is an islandwide problem.”
Hawaii has the highest per capita rate of homelessness in the country.
The trend toward outreach on the streets is emerging from various stakeholders in solving the homeless problem.
Separately but simultaneously on Wednesday, homeless people around Kakaako Waterfront Park had organized a first-of-its-kind services fair in Kakaako Mauka Gateway Park that offered haircuts, shave ice, housing and medical help.
Aura Reyes, 39, represents Ka Po‘e ‘o Kakaako — “The People of Kakaako” — and saw a disconnect between homeless people around Kakaako Waterfront Park and social service organizations offering help.
“There was a lack of trust,” Reyes said. “Social workers are always associated with a sweep. People needed to know what services were available to them.”
There was so much enthusiasm from both social services organizations and their homeless clients Wednesday that Reyes hopes to make the fair a quarterly event.
While the service fair was technically a separate event, Community Outreach Court workers organized themselves into groups next to the fair.
Tom, the deputy prosecutor, offered the services at Kakaako Mauka Gateway Park to the homeless his group had encountered earlier at Ala Moana Regional Park.
Brenda Marylue, 54, who sleeps behind the L&L Barbecue stand at Ala Moana park, initially was excited about the possibility of a hot shower, food and fresh clothes that was being offered in Kakaako. She had only dirty gray socks on her feet and said someone stole her good sweat pants.
Care Hawaii case manager Patrick Ross urged Marylue to seek help at Kakaako Mauka Gateway Park.
L&L Barbecue manager Eric Li told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that there are plenty of homeless people in Ala Moana Regional Park just like Marylue.
“She sleeps right over there,” Li said, pointing to the back of his business. “They’re always asking for water, always asking for money.”
But Marylue had no way to get to Kakaako quickly. A van was shuttling homeless people to shelters and to Kakaako Mauka Gateway Park, but a communication breakdown prevented the van from getting to Ala Moana Regional Park.
Then Marylue’s initial enthusiasm suddenly died when she realized that she could be driven to Kakaako and back in a marked HPD patrol car.
“She’s not going in a police car, no way,” Ross later said. “Maybe she’ll change her mind. I hope she changes her mind.”
But Jason Poole, 33, decided to take up Tom on his offer of services in Kakaako.
Poole had been sitting on a beach chair under the shade of a tree when Tom, Lilley and their group approached.
Tom said that he and Lilley could help clear any nonviolent violations. Lilley looked up Poole’s court records and said he only had an outstanding citation for allegedly violating park closure hours.
“We’re going to try to hit the reset button with you,” Tom said.
After a police officer placed Poole in the back of a police car to take him to Kakaako, Tom said that future Community Outreach Court efforts need to be more low-key and approachable.
“I have like 30 seconds to build that trust,” Tom said. “And then we put him in the back of a police car.”