Honolulu Clearing Final Blocks of Major Homeless Camp

Honolulu officials began the final sweeps of one of the largest homeless encampments, tearing down structures that have been home to some for over a year


CATHY BUSSEWITZ

Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) - Honolulu officials began the final sweeps of what was one of the largest homeless encampments in the nation, tearing down structures that have been home to some for over a year.

The final push to clear out the Kakaako homeless camp, located just steps from the Pacific Ocean and not far from Waikiki, began Friday amid a chaotic scene of people trying to gather their belongings before they were taken away by officials.

People dragged items away from their makeshift homes while police cars blocked off one of the streets of the encampment. Families waited with their belongings in a nearby park, some hoping to go to a shelter, but sprinklers in the park turned on so they had to move.

"We just want to make sure folks know the park is not a place for people to live," said Lindsay Doi, spokeswoman for the Hawaii Community Development Authority, which manages the park. "It's a place for the public to enjoy."

Cheyenne Suka, who ran a shop from his tent in the encampment, waited in a wheel chair to go to a shelter near the site of his kidney dialysis treatment facility.

"I'm in very much pain. A lot of emotion," Suka said. "A lot of hard feelings, but what can I say. An authority speaks. I'm just an ordinary man that's trying to live."

Longtime camp residents placed a sign on the street questioning Gov. David Ige's commitment to helping the homeless. Another sign explained the aloha spirit, advocating compassion for those without a home.

Andrew Neuman, of Honolulu, who was volunteering, tried to help a family load their belongings into his van, but was asked to move by police.

"The street right now is closed," said Ross Sasamura, director of the Honolulu Department of Facility Maintenance.

City officials estimated that about 100 homeless people were affected by the two-day sweep that began Thursday.

Outreach workers canvassed the encampment before the sweeps began to inform people living there that buses would take them to shelters.

But others thought that estimate was low, saying they thought at least 250 people were living in the camp when the final sweeps began Thursday. The section of the camp being emptied was home to many who had lived there for years, despite sporadic sweeps, and many carted their belongings to a nearby park, hoping to return in a few days.

A handful of homeless people boarded a bus heading to shelters Thursday morning, but many people decided not to go, fearing they'd have to abandon pets, bicycles and other belongings.

"People are able to take a number of their possessions on the bus," said Jun Yang, executive director of the mayor's office of housing, adding that shelter spaces were set aside for people leaving the camp.

"You can expect all the homeless to spill into the other neighborhoods," said Tabatha Martin, who lives with her 4-year-old daughter and husband in a section of camp set to be cleared Friday. "Nobody here has a plan, really."

The sweeps in the camp started in early September, but the city has been enforcing rules that prohibit where homeless can set up for years. Concerned business owners and residents have been pushing to clear the encampments, saying they are a nuisance to tourists and a public safety hazard.

Attorneys representing the ACLU and residents of the encampment have filed a lawsuit alleging the sweeps deprive people of their belongings.

The ACLU asked a judge to halt the sweeps, but its request was denied. The next hearing in the case is in December.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.

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