JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
A woman napped on the grass at Ala Moana Beach Park yesterday. Homeless people who live in the park say they do not know where they will go when nighttime closures take effect.
Park homeless to be evicted
A cleanup will close Ala Moana for a month at night, which may turn permanent
Scores of homeless people will be displaced when the city shuts down Ala Moana Regional Park nightly, starting Monday until April 27, when a major face lift will be completed.
Who: City Parks and Recreation Department
Where: Ala Moana Regional Park
What: Park to close 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. each day
When: Beginning Monday. During April 25-27, park will be completely shut for renovation.
Exception: Friday to April 2, during the Honolulu Centennial Family Festival, the park will be closed 2 to 4 a.m.
Details: No one will be allowed to remain in the park while it is closed, but public access to the ocean will still be available for fishing and other ocean activities during the closures.
But city officials said they could make the evening closings permanent after assessing the trial period.
"We are taking back our parks for our families, children and all park users. All of the public should be able to enjoy safe, clean, healthy parks," city Parks Director Lester Chang said yesterday.
Advocates for the homeless say that kicking them out of the park will only exacerbate an already growing problem.
"I'm kind of surprised that this is happening. I have heard that more homeless have been arrested there recently," said Bob Nakata, pastor of Kahaluu United Methodist Church and a former state senator. "It concerns me and deeply upsets me a little."
The city will close the park from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., beginning Monday. From April 25 to 27, the park will be shut down while city crews clean everything from bathrooms and park benches to roads and landscaping.
Chang said the work will include:
» Cleaning restrooms and painting the Ewa and Waikiki restrooms. The city recently completed a major renovation of three Magic Island restrooms.
» Filling potholes and re-striping parking lots and the beach road.
» Landscaping maintenance, including pruning trees.
» Repairing picnic tables and park benches.
» Painting and doing maintenance work on lifeguard towers.
The only exception to the closing times will be from Friday to April 2, for the Honolulu Centennial Family Festival on Magic Island. During those days the park will close from 2 to 4 a.m.
Enforcement of the closure will be left up to Honolulu police, Chang said.
Honolulu police Capt. Frank Fujii said HPD will be standing by "to ensure everyone's safety."
After the renovation is complete, the city will evaluate whether to make the overnight park closure permanent and extend it to other city parks.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Park users Vance Driskill, 7, left, Almog Dekalo, 8, and Sheleg Dekalo, 10, fished yesterday at Ala Moana Beach Park. The park will be closed nightly for renovations for most of April, posing a concern for scores of people.
City Councilman Charles Djou, whose district includes Ala Moana park, said he solidly stands behind the plan.
"This is something that I have been complaining about to the Parks Department as well as (police)," Djou said. "Average local folks feel uncomfortable about going to the park after hours. ... At times it looks like a homeless tenement at Ala Moana Beach Park."
Chang said two events prompted the city to move forward with its plans:
» One was the state's move to clear the homeless from the Keehi Interchange on Nimitz Highway. "We didn't want them coming to Ala Moana," Chang said.
State Transportation Department spokesman Scott Ishikawa said the department had been aware of the homeless population there but decided to move them out because of concerns by police about criminal activity such as gambling and drug dealing occurring there.
» The second reason for moving forward with the park closure and cleanup is a summit on homelessness planned by Gov. Linda Lingle, Chang said.
Linda Smith, the governor's senior policy adviser, said the meeting on Thursday will focus on homeless families and homeless people with mental illness. She said they would want to discuss with agencies their ability to hire more staff and expand emergency housing facilities should a $20 million appropriation move forward.
Nakata said, "With a little bit of patience, there are solutions that are coming down the line.
"Why pick a time like now, when some things are happening which could alleviate the situation at least temporarily while the more permanent solutions are coming down online?"
City Community Services Director Debbie Kim Morikawa said that the city is already in discussions with homeless-service providers to help those living in the park.
Park user reactions to the plans were mixed.
Leland Ching, a Seattle resident who comes back a few times a year to visit family and surf at Ala Moana, called the park's bathrooms pilau (stinky) and pointed to a long, low crumbling wall directly behind the beach.
"What's three days out of the year? You've got to keep this place looking good for the tourists and so local people have a decent place to go," he said.
Others did not see the need.
"It's already nice enough. The city's always wasting money like that," said Colby Simms, who is working on becoming a city lifeguard.
Simms also saw the nighttime closures as a poorly veiled -- and ultimately futile -- bid to drive out the homeless.
"That's so cold. They're human, too; they need to have a place to go. And they're just going to come back after. It's pointless, brah," he said.
Homeless people living in the park said yesterday they did not know where they would end up.
"I've got no place to go. Guess I'll be living on the street or something. It's a sad case," said a man who gave his name only as George while spreading out a rain-soaked collection of old clothes and blankets to dry in the noon sun.