NINA WU / NWU@STARBULLETIN.COM
Vladimir Berezansky, 68, says he prefers living on the streets rather than in a shelter.
Not Seeking Shelter
Some Oahu homeless find a park or beach more attractive than state housing
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For Vladimir Berezansky, being homeless in Honolulu is a daily routine. He starts the morning at around 4 a.m., awakening from his bed on a bus stop bench near Alapai Street, and heads to the Institute for Human Services -- and then on to Fort Street Mall downtown, Kakaako and Waikiki.
Wearing an overcoat, sneakers and a hat, Berezansky carries his world of belongings -- a tarp, bedding and backpack -- neatly folded and tucked onto a two-wheeled metal trolley that he pulls behind him.
Berezansky, 68, is just one of Hawaii's many unsheltered homeless people who may or may not have been counted by the state this year.
Last year, a joint study by the state and University of Hawaii's Center on the Family tallied close to 3,500 homeless people in Honolulu last year, with 1,973 of them -- or 56 percent -- unsheltered.
On neighbor islands the study tallied close to 2,500 homeless people, including 1,522 -- 60 percent -- unsheltered.
The state has spent about $10.8 million rolling out an unprecedented number of new shelters, from Kakaako to Kalealoa to Waianae, that is likely to increase the number of sheltered homeless.
But no matter how many shelters are built, there are some homeless residents who will stay away regardless.
Berezansky is one of them.
The New Jersey native has been homeless for more than 30 years, most of it on the mainland before he moved to Hawaii, but he says he gets by just fine.
He doesn't like crowds, he said. He'd rather be on his own.
A few businesses, such as This Is It! bakery, have been generous enough to give him coffee and bread, which takes care of breakfast and dinner.
A small number of homeless are like Berezansky, opting not to be part of the shelter program, according to service providers.
Beaches and parks are the most desirable places to camp out, near public restrooms and showers.
But as Honolulu gets denser and city park rules get stricter -- washing and drying laundry is no longer allowed at Kakaako Waterfront Park, for instance -- the homeless are forced to get more creative.
In Honolulu's urban core, that means sleeping in a makeshift blanket tent on Ala Moana Boulevard, under a freeway duct, among the bushes or in the foliage of a tree across from the new John A. Burns School of Medicine.
Rita, who did not want the Star-Bulletin to use her last name, and Harvey Hannah Jr. also choose not to be in a shelter.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Richard Lum, right, sits with Harvey Hannah Jr., in back, and Rita at Mother Waldron Park in Kakaako.
Rita, 37, and Hannah, 32, choose instead to sleep near the Mother Waldron Park restrooms. They feel safe there, said Rita, because it is near the police substation.
They don't want to go to a shelter for fear of "bedbugs," says Rita. With the number of people there, viruses like the flu spread fast, she said.
Hannah, who came to Hawaii from Oklahoma 10 years ago, said he has held a variety of jobs, including car salesman, but has been homeless for three years.
He has been trying to take a few odd jobs here and there in home repair, but looking for work on foot and having no address puts him at a disadvantage in the job market.
"We're trying to do what we can to get off the street," he said. "It's just hard when you don't make enough."
The pair has blankets, folding chairs, a cooler, a burner, even a small DVD player. Rita has a cell phone, thanks to her sister.
A revolving community sleeps regularly at the park, including Richard Lum, 62, and another woman, who declined to be interviewed.
Lum says a friend has offered him a room in his home, but he prefers to hang out at the park. He stores his belongings in several plastic trash bags.
They do not take the park for granted.
Rita says they clean the restroom, pick up trash and sweep the outside area. They get up by about 7:30 a.m., when schoolchildren begin using the park and nearby playground. Pitching tents is not allowed.
No one bothers them, says Rita, who is on disability and does not work. She says that she has been on a waiting list for Section 8 rental housing for several years.
Darlene Hein, director of Waikiki Health Center's Care-a-Van outreach program, said she believes roughly 20 percent of homeless residents opt to stay out of shelters, in many cases because they are mentally ill or have social or substance-abuse problems.
Or because they simply don't want to be subject to all the rules. And some, but few, just prefer to live outdoors.
Hein's group services a little more than 2,000 individuals, from the North Shore to Waikiki, and from Ewa Beach to Makapuu.
"It's not just a matter of opening a shelter and people will go," said Hein. "The issues are much more complex."
A team of outreach workers, including a nurse practitioner, goes out to these individuals, who include Rita and Hannah at Mother Waldron Park, on a regular basis.
But she said the nonprofit's resources are getting drained even as more shelters come online.