MAILI PARK: CLEANING UP IS COMPLICATED
Beach is only home for many
Those trying to help people in need see an increase in homeless at other city parks
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Sitting on a wooden picnic table near her tent, Debra Simmons grew tearful as she pondered where she would live if the city conducts a sweep of the beach park in Maili that has been her home for a year.
"Where are we going to go to?" asked Simmons, 48, a full-time security guard with Freeman Guards Inc.
Hundreds of homeless people face displacement as the city contemplates more cleanups and curfews at parks on the Waianae Coast. Some vow they will not budge.
"I'm not worried about them kicking me out," said Simmons, who lives across from Kaukama Road in Maili. "Personally, I'm going to fight."
The homeless problem points to a dire need for more permanent affordable housing, according to Simmons. Her opinion is supported by a team of outreach providers that conducts weekly visits to aid the homeless along the Waianae Coast.
"We don't want to be here, but we're making the best of it," said Simmons, who lives on the beach with her 19-year-old daughter, Tia, and her puppy, Buddy.
She and her family previously lived in a transitional shelter in Manoa, where she paid $450 a month for rent. But a work-related knee injury forced her last year to stop working for six months.
Simmons was placed on workers' compensation, receiving $327 every two weeks -- not enough, she said, for her to cover rent, car payments and other bills and expenses.
In September, Simmons returned to work. She said she thought about filling out an application for the state's newest shelter, which opened several miles away from Maili Beach Park in March, but pet restrictions prevented Simmons from taking that step.
For the past six months, Simmons has been on the waiting list for the city Section 8 Rental Assistance Program. Meanwhile, she continues to search for a home, but landlords are not giving her a chance, she said.
"That's what I want, is a chance," Simmons said. "Our family wants to get out of here."
About 8,500 people are on the city Section 8 Rental Assistance Program's waiting list, which was closed in May 2005 when the list grew to 10,500. Those at the top of the list have a wait period of four to six months, while those at the end of the list have a wait period of five to seven years, said Debbie Kim Morikawa, director of the Department of Community Services. Each voucher provides an estimated $770 rent subsidy.
For the state's Section 8 Subsidy Program, 2,051 people are on the waiting list. It was closed last July following a weeklong period when the list was reopened at 3,000.
The wait period for the state's list is two years or longer, said Dexter Ching, branch chief for the Section 8 program, part of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority. Each voucher provides an estimated $740 rent subsidy.
Ching said the number of families the state can assist through the Section 8 housing program is dwindling because of rising high rent costs. Within three years the rent subsidy rose to $740 from $590.
Since the Maili Beach Park cleanup, Mary Oneha, director of quality and performance for the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, said she and other outreach providers noticed an influx of the homeless at Keaau Beach Park, Lualualei Beach Park, also known as Sewers, and Depots Beach Park.
Providers also noticed an increase in the homeless at beaches beyond Keaau Beach Park.
Two of the parks that are visibly populated by the homeless -- Depots and Lualualei -- are being targeted for night closure hours for their parking lots.
Outreach providers from the health center focus on eight locations along the coastline from Kalaeloa beyond Keaau, visiting two parks weekly to assist the homeless with medical needs and offer better access to social services.
Like other outreach providers, Oneha said the lack of sufficient affordable housing forces the homeless to move from one beach to another when cleanups occur. There is no place to go, and they will remain on the beach, just in a different location, she said.
"It's a pingpong effect," said Janet Kelly, project managing attorney of the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii.
The homeless get bounced around from shelters to the streets, said Kelly, managing attorney for the project under the organization called the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Homeless Holistic Civil Legal Services Program.
Every Monday, Kelly joins the health center's outreach providers to assist the homeless with legal services that include seeking shelters, public benefits, and debt and custody issues.
The main hurdle for the homeless is where to go after their stay at transitional shelters is maxed out, Kelly said. Generally, transitional shelters have a maximum stay period of two years.
"If they can't get something permanent, it's just this round robin," Kelly added.
"I feel for the clients. They're extremely frustrated with the system," she said.
Kelly commended the state for taking action to address the homeless issue.
Since May the state has opened transitional shelters in Kakaako, Kalaeloa and Waianae.
Still, more needs to be done, Kelly said. "They still need to find a place after the shelter," she stressed.
In this year's legislative session, multiple bills were introduced to set aside more funding for various services for the homeless as well as housing programs.
Meanwhile, the city continues to work with the state and outreach providers as more parks are sought for cleanups to restore access to the general public as shelter space is made available.
If they do not have a place to go, it just compounds the problem, said Les Chang, director of the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Still, "the beach park is not a place for people to live," Chang said.