FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
A group called H-5 -- Hawaii Helping the Hungry Have Hope -- fed homeless people yesterday at Ala Moana Park and took the opportunity to register many of them to vote. After saying a prayer, H-5 Director Utu Langi, left, watched as people went through the food line.
Displaced homeless plan march on City Hall
Several local pastors also decry the curfew at Ala Moana Park
When the city closes Ala Moana Beach Park at 10 tonight for the first time, dozens of the more than 200 homeless people who sleep there plan to march to Honolulu Hale and pitch tents on the grass in protest. They will be joined by several service providers.
"The city has to solve this problem," said Eileen Joyce, founder of a newsletter written by and for the homeless. "They're creating a problem without coming up with a solution."
On Thursday, city Parks Director Les Chang announced plans to shut down Ala Moana Park nightly to people and cars.
The night shutdown starts today. After a month, officials will decide whether to make it permanent.
The city says closing the park at night will allow crews to catch up on badly needed maintenance work.
But homeless advocates and those who live in the park say the closures will only exacerbate a statewide problem that has worsened with rising rents and slipping wages.
As a heavy rain fell on the park last night, about 30 homeless people gathered at a closed concession stand to get stew, rice and salad from the H-5 project, which serves meals twice a week at the park. The conversation drifted to the closure almost immediately, with some saying that they planned to walk out peaceably, and others vowing to fight.
When Lusia Wieckowicz, secretary of Island Tenants on the Rise, passed out voter registration forms as part of new effort to get the homeless to the polls, nearly a dozen jumped at the chance.
Many said they wanted to vote so that their voice would be heard.
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
H-5 volunteer Lusia Wieckowicz, secretary of Island Tenants on the Rise, right, helped a man register.
"I can't grumble about who's in office if I don't vote," said Alfred Keliiholokai, a 54-year-old who has been in and out of the park in recent years. But his friend Pam Ritchie just kept smoking a cigarette when the forms were passed around.
"I'm just so disgusted right now," she said.
Valerie Ferreira and Julius Roberts, who will marry in August, also passed up the invitation to vote. They are leaving in May for Connecticut to live with Roberts' family, they said.
The park's night closure has been the last straw for the two, who say a string of bad luck landed them in the park six months ago. They have money, but not enough to get into a rental.
Every night, they sleep in their car at the park. They will drive off from their regular spot today, looking for a new place to stay.
After the meal was finished, ITOR members and homeless gathered at a second concession stand to plan tonight's protest. They expect to meet at the same stand at 9 p.m. today.
The homeless and service providers plan to march out of the park together at 10 p.m. and continue on to Honolulu Hale. If the rain is coming down hard, they might shorten their march and sleep at a spot of green somewhere along the way.
The Rev. Bob Nakata of Kahaluu United Methodist Church, who has called for a moratorium on homeless sweeps in parks, said he and about a dozen other pastors from around the island will also gather at the concession stand tonight.
He said they will monitor the park's closure and ensure it remains peaceable. He does not plan to participate in the protest.
"I don't plan to get arrested," he said with a chuckle.