Scores living in isolated homeless camp along Keehi Lagoon - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Scores living in isolated homeless camp along Keehi Lagoon

KEEHI LAGOON, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Tucked among kiawe trees, up and down the banks of Keehi Lagoon, are dozens of tents and makeshift shacks.

Outreach providers estimate more than 100 people are living in the brush, isolated from resources and the help advocates say they need to get into housing.

In one area, the homeless rigged a pulley system to help them cross the waterway in boats or handmade rafts. One group even has it's own dock.

The only way to get to the camp is by crawling under the Nimitz Highway viaduct or by boat.

"These people, they're invisible," said Jason Pang, an outreach specialist with the Institute for Human Services, the largest homeless provider on Oahu 

Until Wednesday, Pang had only heard about the growing encampment, but hadn't seen it.

After visiting, he was shocked. "The size of the population was pretty astounding to me. I didn't realize that there were that much people out there," he said. "They're clearly more inclined to be left alone and just go about their own business and live their lives the way they have been."

The Keehi Lagoon encampment illustrates the complexities of Hawaii's homeless crisis.

Many of Hawaii's homeless families just need a little assistance to get into permanent housing. But others need a lot of help. And some, like those living at the Keehi Lagoon encampment, don't even want to be found.

According to the city's latest count, there are 4,903 homeless people on Oahu.  About 1,900 -- or 40% of them -- are unsheltered.

Skye Moore, the program administrator for Project DATE (Discern, Assist, Train, Empower), the closest service provider to the Keehi encampment, said those who live along Keehi do so for safety -- and to be left alone.

"Because it's isolated they feel that they're safer away from the police and those that are trying to force them into a living situation that they're not comfortable with or want to be a part of," Moore said.

Project DATE offers meals to the Keehi Lagoon homeless -- and about 100 others who live under the Nimitz viaduct -- four times a week.

"These are your locals. Your grandmas, your grandpas and due to unforeseen circumstances, they have lived under this bridge for 20 - 25 years some of them," she said.

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According to Moore, the average age of the men who live in the area is 52. For women, it's 45.  She says that's why they're often overlooked. "They can't work so you can't give them a subsidy. You actually have to pay for their housing. Nobody wants to pay for their housing," Moore said.

Pang, of IHS, says without an accurate count of how many people are out there, assistance -- even if they were willing to accept it -- would be limited.

"If these people haven't gone and checked in at any kind of food bank or any kind of place and claimed that they were homeless in a certain area, we don't know that they exist," Pang said. "We wouldn't be able to account for any kind of funding to help them in any kind of way."

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