HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Tensions are rising among homeless people near the H-1 Freeway's airport viaduct as state crews continue breaking up illegal camp sites.
On Thursday, witnesses say a homeless person started a small fire in protest. State public safety officials say there is an active arson investigation after fires were deliberately set in the area three times in as many days.
State sheriffs kept a watchful eye as clean-up crews cleared an area makai of Nimitz Highway of trash and other debris. When they started breaking down a homeless man's houseboat, witnesses say someone started a small fire nearby.
"You can only push people so far until they want to push back," Jarod Wong, who's been living near the viaduct for seven years, said.
Wong says crews started Thursday's sweep without giving the homeless time to retrieve personal belongings.
"They were trying to deny people the right to go get their medications," he said. "This one guy back here has only one arm. They didn't want to let him to get his prosthetic arm. We had to raise a big ruckus."
But the state Department of Transportation says sheriffs spent last Saturday giving people a heads-up about the operation.
"They gave everybody a warning that this was going to happen, that anything that was left behind would be considered trash, would be cleared out," Dan Meisenzahl, DOT spokesperson, said.
Some homeless people made accusations that deputy sheriffs ordered them to empty their pockets and then took their cash. Bert Arriba says the money he made from selling his catch from fishing was stolen.
"Almost $400," he said. "Yeah, I can't do nothing. They just laugh. They just laugh every time I ask them about the money."
State public safety officials say the theft claims were unsubstantiated during a field investigation.
"The department's response is that they did not take any of their belongings," Keith Kamita, state Department of Public Safety, said. "What would have been seized if anything would have been if drugs were come across, and I know there has been drugs found at this location."
Kamita says sheriffs recovered an eight-ball of what appeared to be crystal methamphetamine during their search Thursday.
Wong admits he used to sell drugs, but says he now earns money by fixing cars and has nowhere else to live.
"We put in more work every day just to put food on our tables, just to keep each other out of trouble," he said through tears. "What do they want from us."
The clean-up operation continues through next week.