State must control homeless in parks
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.