Honolulu is shutting its parks and eyes to the homeless
The city has made permanent its temporary nighttime closing of Ala Moana park.
THE CITY'S decision to close Ala Moana Beach Park at night permanently
wasn't much of a surprise. Despite Mayor Hannemann's assertion that shutting the public grounds had nothing to do with getting rid of homeless people, that was at least part of the plan when the city announced the park's temporary closing last March for cleaning and repairs.
At the time, Parks Director Lester Chang declared, "We are taking back our parks for our families, children and all park users," implying that the constant presence of homeless people was unsettling to others.
As one park user who welcomed the permanent closure told the Star-Bulletin's Alexandre Da Silva last week, "People couldn't walk up and down without bumping over people with a lot of filth around them."
However, now that Ala Moana park is no longer a haven for those who either through choice or unfortunate circumstances do not have a place to live, other Oahu parks and beaches are seeing a migration of the homeless.
On the Leeward Coast, scores of people who cannot afford to rent, much less buy a home, in Hawaii's high-priced market have put up tents and tarps as shelter. Even in small urban playgrounds, men, women and children without housing surreptitiously spend the night under benches and picnic tables.
Officials could decide to close all of the city's 203 public parks during the night, as it does at about 150 facilities. But enforcement would be cumbersome, if not impossible. There is also a question about whether the city can deny the public's access to shoreline areas as state law allows.
Moreover, Chang's statement that it will be up to the police to decide who to cite -- whether they be a jogger running through the park, a couple on a moonlight stroll or a bicyclist peddling on a path -- leaves too much to an officer's discretion. If the park is closed, it should be closed to everyone.
The city's difficulty isn't so much about clean rest-rooms and unobstructed walkways. It is about homeless people.
In closing Ala Moana park, it has merely relocated the its problem, not solved it. Unless officials and the community can find a way to deal with homelessness and all its accompanying issues, people without a place to live will continue to seek shelter in doorways, alleys, freeway underpasses, bus stops, parking garages, cemeteries, and yes, parks and beaches.