Rising costs, challenges cleaning up homeless camps

Rising costs, challenges cleaning up homeless camps

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State officials say it's a consistent and costly problem—clearing out the homeless who are illegally camped out under areas like the Nimitz highway bridge. And solving it couldn't be more complicated, because officials say each person living under the Nimitz viaduct wound up there for a different reason. Local experts say if they could figure out why, they might be able to help them—but without affordable housing to offer them and jobs that pay a living way, they'll likely end up back under the freeway.

State officials have been trying to keep this area under the Nimitz viaduct near the Honolulu airport clean for years, but every time they clear it out-- it's just a matter of time before folks like John Santos move back in.

"I moved from that location to this location over year, but prior to that I was on the other side," said Santos.

Officials say sweeps happen every 6 months. It costs between $100,000 - $200,000 dollars each time—money that comes from the Department of Transportation's maintenance fund that would otherwise be used on routine road repairs.

"It's something that we're committed to doing, that we need to do, it's important to do-I mean, we would rather that it was just open and we wouldn't have to spend the money there but this is the reality of the situation that we have to deal with," said Caroline Sluyter, spokesperson with the Dept. of Transportation.

Before clean-ups, representatives from different local social service programs stop at each camp site—giving the homeless advance notice and time to clear  their belongings, and offering assistance to those willing to make a change.

" The ultimate objective is to be able to put people into permanent housing and that does present some challenges especially when you consider the issue of affordability," said Colin Kippen, the State's Homeless Coordinator.

Santos has called this place home for the past two years, but he knows he'll have to pack up and leave before the next sweep at the end of February.

"I'll find someplace - whatever I've got, but we don't have a choice," said Santos.

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