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StarBulletin.com

Firmly encamped


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POSTED: Wednesday, December 02, 2009

On the Diamond Head end of Waikiki next to Kapiolani Park, a disabled Laura Lambertson pitched her tent for the night Monday on a strip of land between the sidewalk and Kalakaua Avenue, along with scores of other homeless people.

“;This isn't part of the park,”; she said. “;For now it's OK.”;

Waikiki residents say the row of tents isn't OK, and they fear the detrimental impact the sight might have on tourists as the number of homeless grows in Hawaii's main visitor destination area.

“;It's not appropriate in these areas,”; said Louis Erteschik, vice chairman of the Waikiki Neighborhood Board. “;It makes the place seem scuzzy. It just hurts our reputation in Waikiki.”;

Councilman Charles Djou said he is worried that Kapiolani Park is becoming a magnet for criminal activity and is no longer attractive to families.

“;The growing vagrant population at Kapiolani Park is out of control and demands immediate attention,”; Djou said. “;The vagrants in the area are using a loophole in the camping law and treating public property as their own.”;

Djou said he has asked the city to remove the tents as “;illegal structures.”;

Under current city law, camping is not allowed in Kapiolani Park. City spokesman Bill Brennan said the city is trying to determine whether the strip of land between the sidewalk and the street is part of the park.

Djou said he supports giving free mental health services, drug counseling and shelter to those in need but does not support converting city parks into private property.

Brennan said he has not seen Djou's news release, but said the city parks staff plans to perform maintenance in the area this week, requiring people to move the tents.

“;The grass will be cut and watered, and the area sanitized,”; Brennan said.

Several campers told the Star-Bulletin that city crews have been clearing the tents and doing maintenance weekly but that once work is done, a few hours later, the campers return and pitch their tents again.

Lambertson said part of her disability stems from having surgeries on two knees, but she hopes to eventually find a job and public housing.

“;I'm waiting for my caseworker to get back to me,”; she said.

Teddy Espinoza said he worked for a Honolulu radio station before he lost his job and became homeless and that the number of homeless is growing as more people lose their jobs.

“;It's increasing every day,”; he said.