Alaysia Kuni has lived on the beach for a month with her mom and two sisters.

Homeless in paradise

The "rousting" of people
living in parks is on the rise
in all four counties

First of two parts
Nonprofits pressed for funds

One out of four homeless people in Hawaii have jobs, about the same number have families and many send their kids to school, a recent state survey found.

But without a home, many of them camp or live in their vehicles at beaches, parks or other public places and are subject to "rousting" by police or other government employees. Advocates say rousting -- chasing homeless people away from public places -- seems to be on the rise and hinders efforts to help people.

"On the one hand, the public has a right to beach access, and most of the public, they're afraid of groups of homeless people with their dogs that seem to be running wild in that camp environment and bathrooms that are run-down and taken over," said Sandi Miyoshi, administrator for homeless programs with the state Housing and Community Development Corp.

Tulu Toa, homeless specialist for the Waianae Community Outreach, talks with Annie Pau, who was complaining about the treatment she was getting from the city.

But Miyoshi and other homeless advocates said that moving the homeless from park to park isn't a good idea because case workers are unable to find homeless families to tell them that housing has become available, or provide other services.

"The hardest part, of course, if we relocate them, we're relocating to another park and nobody wants to see that either, but we don't have any other place," Miyoshi said.

Hawaii's homeless population is estimated at more than 6,000, according to the state survey. Rousting goes on in all four counties:

>> On Oahu, rousting by police and parks personnel appears to be on the rise.

"It's more prevalent now because the numbers (of homeless) are greater," Miyoshi said.

Many stay in Downtown Honolulu. "That's where the services are. That's where, for those who are mentally ill, it's accessibility to food. ... A lot of the homeless are afraid of being isolated because there's safety in numbers," Miyoshi said.

Alaysia's mother, Kristina Kuni, is pictured with her daughters.

The homeless also tend to congregate Downtown in large numbers because of the different bus lines that run through the area. "It keeps them mobile," Miyoshi said.

But the attraction to the Waianae Coast is different.

"There's another group of homeless that don't want too much contact with people and feel that they can get along in a camping kind of situation," Miyoshi said. "There's so many beaches that are kind of remote that it's easy to set up a place to stay and be, whereas on the other areas of the island there are not quite so many remote areas."

Margaret Akau, 42, and her husband, Jordan, 49, ended up living in their truck at an Oahu beach spot known as Sewers in Lualualei after battling drug addiction, a lack of education, a job loss and their children being taken from them.

"The hardest part (of living on the beach) is when rain and when HPD come down," said Akau, now undergoing job training as a volunteer at the Waianae Community Outreach. "They would kick us off the park."

Akau knows what it's like to move from beach park to beach park, especially when she can't get a permit to legally camp at the beach. She and her husband were even told recently by a police officer to move to Ewa Beach.

"No matter where we go, the cops would harass us," Akau said. "If we don't have a (camping permit), they come down and kick us off that beach. We have nowhere to go, so we end up going back to the same beach we came from."

Many homeless families are now setting up camp behind caw bushes all along the Waianae Coast. Anthony, a homeless man, walks back to his home on the beach.

Waianae Community Outreach Executive Director Stanlyn Placencia said it's a lack of coordination between agencies that has led to rousting of the homeless.

An example of that lack of coordination, Placencia contends, is a bill that came before the Honolulu City Council that would standardize the closing of parks at night.

"The intent is to close the parks at night so that they can enforce laws against illegal activities," she said. "But then, is that to say that homelessness is illegal, because that's basically what they're going to do."

She said the problem with arresting or citing the homeless for living in the park is that they are sometimes being pushed into the judicial system for, in essence, being homeless.

Akau was among those who went to City Hall recently to oppose the park closure legislation known as Bill 55, which was sent back to committee to be reworked.

"What really pisses us off is people that do have houses come and they drink and they leave all their opala (trash) all over the place, and when people passing by, they think we're the ones leaving the rubbish," Akau said. "They don't see we're the ones picking up the rubbish, we're the ones who are cleaning. They just want to see the bad side."

>> "We're just like everyone else, except we live in tents," said a woman in Kauai's Hanamaulu County Beach Park before the Kauai police, acting on Mayor Bryan Baptiste's orders, threatened them with arrest if they didn't leave the parks.

Social service agencies found homes for a few and churches are sheltering some. But most simply vanished to another beach, an abandoned cane field or another island.

Kauai is the only county without a homeless shelter. The island does, however, have a new $4 million shelter for homeless dogs and cats.

Kauai's homeless population has doubled in the past two years to about 300, according to a recent study.

Kauai police never arrested anyone, but when they showed up repeatedly at Kauai County beach parks with a half dozen police cars escorting the park ranger, the campers -- as they call themselves -- moved on.

Baptiste called a news conference to say he "forced them to make important life choices."

>> There are a number of homeless encampments around the Big Island. Deputy Mayor Pete Hendrix said the police sweep the beach parks and evict those who have overstayed -- or never obtained -- county-issued camping permits.

"We know we're not solving the problem," Hendrix said. "They just turn up someplace else."

The Big Island hosts 1,549 homeless and counting. Many of Kauai's homeless who were rousted from the beach parks said the Big Island is where they would head next. But there isn't any cheap housing there, either.

"Lack of affordable housing is, by far, the greatest cause of our increasing homeless problem," said Carol Ignacio, executive director of the Office of Social Ministries, an organization affiliated with the Catholic Archdiocese of Honolulu.

The East Hawaii Coalition for the Homeless operates the Big Island's only homeless shelter in Hilo. The facility can house 52 people a night and serves 600 people annually. On the average night, half the residents are children.

"At any given time, 35 (percent) to 40 percent of our residents have jobs," said Steve Bader, coalition executive director. He said at one point last year, half the residents were carpooling to work at resorts on the Kona side, a drive of more than two hours. But these people weren't making enough money to pay for housing.

>> Maui police and state enforcement officers have stepped up rousting the homeless from county and state beaches to the point where many are choosing to camp in empty lots on private property.

Frank Rich, who has been homeless at different periods in his life, said police have ordered him to leave his camp in empty lots four times in the past three months, compared to hardly ever several years ago.

Social service organizations are finding that, when it comes to the homeless, if you build it, they won't all come.

Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Center in Wailuku houses 264 homeless people, with 133 people on the waiting list. But there are 99 homeless people who do not want help. Most are camping in Lahaina and Kihei.

Charles Ridings, executive director of the shelters, said many of the homeless refuse to come to the center because they have not come to terms with halting their use of drugs, and the program prohibits drug use. Participants are required to go through life skills and education classes, observe a midnight curfew and to eventually seek employment.

And even for those who go through the program, there are no guarantees. Among its graduates are 64 who have jobs but not enough money to rent a house.

Ridings said while substance abuse remains a problem among 38 percent of the homeless, the primary reason for the recent rise in homelessness on Maui is provisions in the federal welfare reform act of 1996, limiting federal rental subsidy benefits to a maximum of five years.

Maria Elaban, 29, a homeless woman with five children, said her family was receiving more than $1,000 in rental subsidy before the federal assistance ended and she hasn't been able to replace lost income.

Few landlords are willing to rent to a family with several children for a reasonable price, she said. Elaban's family lives in a van. She can't find a job because her children are too young to be left alone and the children's father, Duane Domingo, has been unable to find steady work. She said while her children continue to attend school, being homeless has been difficult on their education.

"It's hard to teach them living in a van," she said.

Star-Bulletin reporter Gary T. Kubota and freelance writer Peter Serafin contributed to this report.

Tomorrow: One family's story of life on the streets


for funds

Life for many nonprofit organizations serving Hawaii's homeless is like that of those they serve: hand to mouth.

A survey of the latest available federal returns filed by six agencies -- which are among the organizations providing service to the greatest numbers of the homeless -- helping more than 5,000 homeless people across the state show them receiving more than $10 million in government funding, but their expenses amounting to more than $12 million.

There isn't a steady stream of government funding to keep up with the rising numbers of the homeless, officials say.

"Christmastime and all the holidays generate a lot of public service kind of donations, which helps an agency go a long way," said Sandi Miyoshi, administrator for homeless programs with the Housing and Community Development Corp. "But if you're talking about ongoing operations, the only constant source of funding for that is the state Legislature, the state government, and that's been relatively flat. We're serving a greater number of people for the same amount of money we have. We're serving 6,000 instead of 3,000."

Miyoshi said that as the need intensifies, operations have to grow to accommodate the need.

"The budget has to grow, otherwise we're going to say first come first serve, or you pick a number and maybe we'll get to you," she said. "You're serving more, you need to have more people hired to do that and you need to have more resources."

Charles Ridings, executive director of Maui Economic Concerns of the Community, which runs Maui's only homeless shelter, Ka Hale O Ke Ola Resource Center, said agencies have had to look for other sources of funding.

"The County of Maui has been extremely supportive of us, and for the first time we've been able to identify some federal funding, but again there's no guarantee it's always going to be there," Ridings said.

Agency filings show 79 percent to 87 percent of their expenditures went to program services. Salaries account for 20 percent to 61 percent of expenditures.

The Institute for Human Services from 2002 to 2003 served 2,344 homeless people in its emergency shelters in Iwilei, the greatest number of homeless clients served in the state, according to state statistics.

IHS reported in its filing covering tax year 2001-2002 that it received a little over $1.7 million in government grants, which covered the same amount in worker salaries. The agency also receives $1.5 million in direct public contributions, which apparently helped IHS end the year with a $537,467 balance.

But some agencies, like MECC and Homeless Solutions, Inc., which operates several transitional shelters on Oahu, report very little, if any, financial support outside government. The latest available returns showed both organizations ended the year in a deficit.

"The way that you overcome a deficit you can increase your private donations," Ridings said. "The fallacy to that, unfortunately, is that everybody is knocking on the same doors out there."

Ridings said the agency is actually financially healthy because it tries to contain costs and raise private donations, and doesn't put all its financial eggs in one basket.


E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --