HPD has few options with chronic homeless
I thought there was a law about tents/camping at Ala Moana Park, specifically Magic Island? The weekend of Jan. 28, there were about 18 tents with one group of five or six tents together. They are all homeless and the place is starting to look like "tent city." Will anything be done about it?
Q: How come there are a lot of homeless tents set up at Thomas Square at the corner of Beretania and Ward, when camping is illegal? My 3-year-old grandson and I were there to enjoy the fountain early Sunday, Jan. 29. We were looking in the direction of one of the tents and a homeless person came up and stuck out his chest and said, "What?" I felt very threatened, especially with my grandson. Why aren't the police keeping our parks clean and free of people from setting up tents, making it look like a homeless village? It's getting worse.
Answer: The problem with the homeless living in city parks is nothing new, but the recent rainy weather likely caused all the tents to spring up, making them even more visible in the community.
Police say they routinely patrol the parks and cite people for illegal camping, but are walking a "fine line" in dealing with the widespread problem of the homeless staking out spots in public spaces.
"If we take extensive action, the homeless advocates get all over us," Honolulu police Capt. Carlton Nishimura explained. "Also, we have to have a heart because where are these (homeless) people going?"
But, first, anyone who is threatened or perceives a threat should immediately call police at 911.
In such a case, "we would have made an arrest immediately," Nishimura said. "But we need a complainant for something like that."
You are also advised to call 911 if you see illegal camping, because it is not allowed at Thomas Square or Ala Moana Beach Park, said Dana Takahara-Dias, deputy director for the city Department of Parks and Recreation.
She deferred to HPD on the matter, pointing out the Parks Department "does not have the means to provide security or parks police at our city parks." HPD is responsible for enforcing park rules.
Nishimura noted that many people, including some lawmakers, believe that police can arrest people for vagrancy.
"There is no vagrant law" in Honolulu, he said. However, police can enforce the illegal camping law, and "we're doing that continuously," he said, much as they do for disorderly conduct, terroristic threatening and the like.
At Ala Moana Park, Nishimura said officers on all-terrain vehicles are patrolling until 2 a.m. every night.
"If there's a violation, we take enforcement action," he said. But, he also pointed out that "specific things" have to be evident before officers can cite someone for illegal camping, including the presence of bedding, personal items, clothing, utensils and cooking items.
"We'll ask them to please voluntarily leave," he said. "Most of them do. They understand we're caught in the same situation where people complain and we have to take enforcement action. We try to warn them first, but the chronic (violators) -- we will cite because they know better."
Despite the citations, the violators just seem to go through a "magic door," he said: Some may go to court and plead not guilty, but the majority "just don't show up."
Warrants are then issued for their arrest, and "we arrest them, but they're released the following morning. They never have the money to pay the fines so ... it's a never-ending cycle," he said.
Meanwhile, police find themselves walking that fine line of enforcing the law to the hilt, while realizing homelessness is a major societal problem made more difficult because many needing help often refuse it.
Police and representatives of social agencies have gone to the parks often to offer help, Nishimura said.
Police see both sides of the situation, from the eyes of the general public and those of the homeless.
It's "a social problem," Nishimura said.
To the thief (or thieves) who broke into three classrooms and the lockers at Anuenue School three weeks ago. A big auwe to those who cut the fence, damaged the school's aquaculture tank and killed all the fish last weekend! Besides taking property belonging to the school and students, including school supplies, computer, VCR, radio, field trip monies, pencil sharpeners, scissors, pencils, glue, etc., you also took personal property from the teachers who use their own money to buy supplies for their students. Shame on you for stealing from the kids! Also taken was a bunch of souvenirs and gifts (posters, jewelry, key chains, magnets, notepads, calendars, T-shirts, CDs, etc.) for my co-workers from my recent trip to Aotearoa (New Zealand). If it is not yours, do not take it. I believe that what goes around, comes around. Auwe no ho'i 'e! (What a shame.) -- Kehau Llanos/second-grade teacher
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