DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jody Celoza stands underneath a tarp to protect herself from the pouring rain in one of the makeshift shelters the homeless live in near the Wahiawa bridge.
Homeless problem hardly swept away
Advocates say it will take more than "sweeps" to clear areas where homeless are reappearing
About a year ago, police officers swept through the Lake Wilson area, removing homeless people living there.
One of the homeless who moved before police got there was Owena Hooks. But after staying away for a week, she returned because she didn't want to be a burden on her friends and family.
Today the 47-year-old woman lives in a neatly kept tent by the bank of the lake. The tent -- with a small living and kitchen area, coffee table and couch -- is hidden from view, unseen by passing motorists on the road above. Hooks has worked hard over the past year to make it "homey."
Her return underscores Oahu's homelessness problem and the ineffectiveness of sweeps. A year after law enforcement cleared the homeless from Wahiawa, Ewa Beach and Mokuleia, some have returned simply because there is nowhere else to go, homeless advocates say.
"There's nowhere to go and the numbers are increasing," said the Rev. Jack Smith of the Wahiawa Community Church of the Nazarene, among those who assist the homeless at the lake. "The success rate is one out of 100. There are other areas in Lake Wilson that we have not begin to touch yet."
Smith stressed that education is necessary for the homeless to maintain jobs and manage their own finances. "Unless they are taught responsibility and management, they will return back to where they have been taken from," he said, noting there are about 50 people he assists in the area.
Forcing them to move from one place to another is not the solution, according to Darlene Hein, director of the Waikiki Health Center's Care-A-Van program, which provides food, clothing and medical care to the homeless around the island.
More low-income housing is needed, as well as treatment and services for the homeless, said Hein, who recently testified at the state Legislature in favor of repealing a law that makes it a petty misdemeanor to trespass at public parks and recreational grounds.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Owena Hooks stands under a tarp to stay dry during heavy rain at her home base, an encampment near the Wahiawa bridge. The 47-year-old says she has nowhere else to go.
A report compiled by the Joint Legislative Housing and Homeless Task Force made recommendations to lawmakers that include a five-year plan that calls for developing more affordable housing, repairs to vacant public housing units and additional services for the homeless.
According to one recent study, nearly 6,000 people statewide are homeless at any given time, said Sen. Ron Menor, co-chairman of the task force.
"The task force recognized that homelessness has reached crisis proportions and it needs to be a top priority," Menor said.
Some church organizations that assist the homeless in Wahiawa said the population has increased since last year.
In Ewa Beach, near Oneula Beach Park, a hibachi, two mattresses and other personal items partially covered by tarp crowded the side of a van parked along a small, rocky edge. Several other vehicles lined the edge where some fishermen go to cast their lines.
About 30 homeless people have returned to the beach park, according to Jeff Alexander, member of the Ewa Neighborhood Board.
"They live in their cars. They're setting up tents on the beach again," Alexander said.
On March 2, 2005, police evicted about 100 homeless people from the park. And as in other places, some slowly trickled back after the sweep.
Many had parked their cars along the streets near the park, said Sgt. Edgar Namoca of the Weed and Seed Detail for District 8.
Eleven citations were issued to people for illegal camping at the park since the sweep occurred last year, compared with hundreds of citations that were issued before the sweep, Namoca said.
At Lake Wilson, Jody Celoza has been camping for a month after leaving a transitional home in Waipahu. Celoza, 34, said she overcame a five-year habit of abusing crystal meth, or "ice." She has been drug-free for six months.
Celoza learned about the campsite near the Wilson Bridge through a friend, and said she is staying there temporarily.
Though she has family members on the island, Celoza said she doesn't want to burden them with her problems.
"I don't want to be homeless. But I am," Celoza said, smoking and standing under the tarp to protect herself from the rain. "Hopefully, I'll get back on my feet."