HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -
Community concerns are mounting over the growing homeless population near Kakaako Waterfront Park by the Children's Discovery Center.Tent tracking data from social service providers shows that from Sept of 2014 to February of this year, the number of tents has nearly doubled from 76 to 121. Residents complain they can't use the sidewalk to walk to the park or the Children's Discovery Center without passing through the encampment.
Critics say the trash is big problem with items spilling out into the roadway and that it's an eyesore in a community filled with beauty and growing hope of economic development. In fact, the tents are up around the corner from a site that had been under consideration for President Obama's Presidential Library.
Residents complain the Stored Property Ordinance (SPO) isn't being enforced. A city spokesman says enforcement of the SPO is being done in the area about once or twice a month, but a check of the City's Dept of Facility Maintenance website didn't show any citations issued for property along these related streets.
A lot of times, officials say the campers move their items before crews can issue citations and then return afterwards. However, on Tuesday our cameras captured tents that appeared to have been in place for a long time with many campers having elaborate setups, including one tent with a brand new large screen TV inside.
Social service providers say the Kakaako encampment is believed to be the other major homeless site, in addition to the one on Kapalama Canal in Kalihi, where the majority of the homeless population are migrants from the three island states that fall under the Compact of Free Association (COFA) treaty with the U.S.
The COFA migrants are from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau and the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Under the agreement, the U.S. provides financial assistance in exchange for full international defense authority and responsibilities in COFA nations. COFA migrants are essentially allowed to live and work freely as non-citizen residents in the U.S.
The government began signing treaties with these nations in the 1980's following decades of nuclear test bombing in their countries. Unfortunately, social service providers say the problem is that many COFA migrants arrive will little if any knowledge of Hawaii's public housing laws or benefits and often times have no plan or resources in place to help them integrate into the community when they arrive.
Other concerns over the Kakaako encampment as well as the Kapalama Canal centers on child welfare. Residents complain of unattended children and worry about their safety and wellbeing. Kayla Rosenfeld, spokeswoman for the State Department of Human Services said in an email, that "DHS greatly appreciates (and relies on) community notifications whenever a questionable abuse and/or a neglect situation arises." She added that, "However, homelessness, in and of itself, is not child abuse."
Another major concern at the encampment is water theft. Last week, our cameras captured a woman who appeared to be taking water from a makeshift tap on an elevated water pipe known as a "back flow preventer." After filling her water jug, the water was continuously running into an unattended bucket. BWS says a property owner would actually own that piece of equipment which is used to prevent any problem in the property owner's water system from backing up and contaminating the whole water supply.
City water does flow through the pipe and therefore, BWS officials say any loss of water from that equipment would likely increase the cost of the property owner's City water bill. HNN is investigating who owns that back flow preventer. BWS officials said that taking water from a backflow preventer is an act of theft and considered a crime.
In addition, our camera captured what appeared to be another camp site that appeared to have tapped into a nearby irrigation line off the property of the Children's Discovery Center next to the sidewalk where there the tent is located.
Look for continuing updates on this and other homeless stories. Hawaii News Now is committed to our ongoing coverage of the homeless situation in Hawaii and we are working to report on what Federal, State, City governments and other non-profit groups are doing to find effective solutions to the homeless problem.
Advocates for the homeless argue that the main solution lies with providing more affordable housing and funding for social service programs that are needed to help the homeless. Others add, that reducing the "handouts and freebies" some homeless receive and through enforcement of "compassionate disruption" laws like the Sit / Lie and Stored Property Ordinance will only then many homeless be able to find the incentive and motivation needed to seek appropriate shelter and social services that can help them get off the streets for good.