HOMELESS: KAPIOLANI PARK
BECOMES LATEST CAMPSITE
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kapiolani Park camper Benjamin Kahalepo, with his dog Kikilani, have called the park home as of late. The former hotel cook has stayed at shelters and other parks and is waiting for help in government-subsidized housing or Hawaiian Home Lands.
City seeks ways to limit campers
Roy Thompson, 43, says he has been living in a tent at Kapiolani Park since he was released from prison in April because job-placement programs did not come through for him.
"They said, 'Do what you do best,'" he said. "I'm a thief. I don't want to do that. I do recycling now." He cannot afford rent on the $20 to $40 a day he gets collecting cans.
Soccer moms at the park were wary of Thompson and dozens of other homeless people camping about 200 feet from where their daughters practice and play.
City Parks Department officials say they have had a significant jump in recent complaints about people camping or living in the area. Police have noticed an increase in the number of campers, but it is currently not illegal to camp in the park, said Honolulu Police Department spokeswoman Michelle Yu.
Cherri Masaki, 40, who has two daughters who play soccer in the park, said, "If I had a choice, I'd have them removed. I know people are having a hard time, but this park is so heavily used. There's youth all over. It's scary. Our girls have to go in groups to the bathrooms."
Christine Asuncion, 36, whose 14-year-old daughter plays soccer, said, "If the balls go down (near the homeless), we don't let the girls go. We get the balls."
The homeless people in Kapiolani Park could be forced out if a bill passed by the City Council this week is signed into law by Mayor Mufi Hannemann.
Parks Director Lester Chang said that the city has been working since November to clarify its ordinance prohibiting camping in city parks and beaches without a permit. In November the state Supreme Court ruled that the law was unconstitutional because it was too vague.
If the bill passed by the City Council this week becomes law, it would give police and the Parks Department a tool to ticket campers.
Chang said the city has 15 locations where camping by permit is allowed, but Kapiolani Park is not designated for this type of recreational activity.
Mark Dougherty, a Waikiki resident who lives near the zoo, said the number of tents has jumped to 50 from 20 in the past two months and that the problem is getting out of hand.
At about 7 p.m. Thursday, there were about 15 tents set up in various locations of the park. The majority were on the makai side of Waikiki Shell between the Shell and the bandstand. A few camped on the Paki Avenue side of the park.
City officials do not want to close Kapiolani Park at night to the public as they have with other parks. "Most of the parks we have closed were for safety and health concerns," Chang said.
He said the city is still planning on how it will work with the homeless to try to help them.
The city has recently evicted the homeless from several parks in Mokuleia and on the Leeward Coast and Ewa Plain, shutting them down at night.
"I like to think that, and I hope that, the community as a whole is trying to support these people," Chang said. "I hate to think that the parks are the only resort."
Utu Langi, manager of H-5, which provides services for the Kakaako emergency shelter, said moving the homeless is not going to solve the problem. "It's just going to chase them from one place to another, and they're just going to pick up and move," he said. "They don't have anywhere to go."
He said shelters like Next Step do not have any accommodations now for singles, but do have space for couples or families.
"It's hard because it's urban Honolulu, and we just don't have enough shelter space for the emergency, transitional or affordable housing for them to go to," he said.