State must con­trol home­less in parks

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - VIEWS & VOICES -

The whole ra­tio­nale for mov­ing home­less en­camp­ments out of pub­lic spa­ces is to keep those spa­ces for pub­lic use and en­joy­ment. And now Kakaako Wa­ter­front Park will be closed — to the pub­lic as well.

That has to be the def­i­ni­tion of pol­icy fail­ure, and this one lands at the door of an of­fice on the state Capi­tol’s fifth floor.

Gov. David Ige long ago de­clared the home­less­ness cri­sis to be an emer­gency. And yet some­how no­body no­ticed the dis­rup­tion and dam­age caused to the park by squatters who had tapped into wa­ter and power lines to equip their TVs and other gear run­ning off the pub­lic util­i­ties.

Or, more likely, peo­ple no­ticed but did not swiftly act on it. And as a re­sult, there have been dog at­tacks, fires break­ing out and dam­age from van­dal­ism, cul­mi­nat­ing in the de­ci­sion by the Hawaii Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity to close the ur­ban park — in­def­i­nitely — start­ing 10 p.m. Sun­day. The clo­sure, of­fi­cials said, will en­able the state to make re­pairs es­ti­mated at $500,000.

Be­yond that sticker shock, there’s also the dis­may­ing lack of even a ten­ta­tive re­open­ing date. The state should not let this drag on end­lessly. Of­fi­cials owe the tax­pay­ing pub­lic a plan for con­tin­ued vig­i­lance — the home­less campers al­ready have vowed to re­turn — and for wel­com­ing back all who will miss this rare stretch of open shore­line.

What makes all this es­pe­cially galling is that these state of­fi­cials have been fore­warned about the reper­cus­sions of re­fus­ing to deal with home­less en­camp­ments.

More than two years ago, many months of de­te­ri­o­rat­ing con­di­tions on side­walks bor­der­ing a Kakaako park­ing lot near the park cul­mi­nated in a mam­moth op­er­a­tion to dis­man­tle and clear an en­camp­ment. Nearly 300 peo­ple had lived there, over time build­ing hard­ened shel­ters of lum­ber from dis­carded pal­lets, tarps and tents.

The rea­son that camp be­came so en­trenched was that the city did not ag­gres­sively en­force its stored prop­erty or­di­nance, forc­ing peo­ple to move off the pub­lic side­walks or have their be­long­ings con­fis­cated.

And now it’s hap­pened again, in the state-run park.

The broader area of retail, res­i­den­tial and park spa­ces in Kakaako falls un­der the ju­ris­dic­tion of the HCDA, charged with the re­de­vel­op­ment of this valu­able shore­line frontage. The park it­self is meant to be part of the goal to cre­ate a “lei of green” al­low­ing for greater pub­lic en­joy­ment of the wa­ter­front.

HCDA’s part is to han­dle the en­force­ment of the city’s prop­erty or­di­nance, de­ter­min­ing what to store and what to dis­card. About $320,000 in state funds was al­lot­ted for this pur­pose, said agency spokesman Garett Kamem­oto, but that fund­ing lapsed in June.

So the prob­lem fes­tered, and 180 home­less peo­ple re­mained. The fa­cil­ity, mean­while, has borne the brunt of this il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity.

Campers have bro­ken into and ex­posed elec­tri­cal wires on about 30 poles, said the agency’s direc­tor, Jesse Souki. Wa­ter pipes have been dam­aged and are leak­ing.

And some of the res­i­dents have dogs that have at­tacked peo­ple, which makes the park even more un­safe, he said.

State Rep. Tom Brower has praised the clo­sure as in­ter­ven­tion that was needed be­fore the prob­lem be­came much worse. He’s let­ting of­fi­cials off easy. The ques­tion is, why couldn’t the state have redi­rected re­sources to take care of this prob­lem be­fore it cre­ated this level of dam­age?

Mean­while, the gov­er­nor is tout­ing the state’s Fam­ily As­sess­ment Cen­ter, emer­gency shel­ter and ser­vices for home­less fam­i­lies in a re­pur­posed build­ing ad­ja­cent to the park. That’s all fine, but the home­less pop­u­la­tion plainly en­com­passes a full spec­trum of in­di­vid­u­als and prob­lems. They are re­sis­tant to change.

There is no ig­nor­ing the short­age of ac­com­mo­da­tions for all of them, a hous­ing gap that must be filled. But giv­ing over this pub­lic park in the mean­time, forc­ing its long-term clo­sure, must not be the fall­back op­tion.

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