KAKAAKO, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Concerned residents and park users complain that the homeless population at Kewalo Basin Park in Kakaako is growing and they believe officials aren't doing enough to enforce overnight park closures and no camping rules to keep it clean and safe for public use.
Critics say you just have to take notice of the ropes securing "camping tarps" that run over the top of the main Kewalo Basin Park entrance wall to see that it's being taken over by the homeless.
Area resident and frequent Kewalo surfer, Billy, told Hawaii News Now that he's long complained about the growing homeless problem there to various authorities. He said he's very frustrated with the situation and he no longer enters the water to surf near the Diamond Head end of the park where the heaviest population of homeless reside.
"I won't leave my board there anymore," he said. Billy fears someone will steal it. He also claims that he's seen some of the homeless using drugs at the park.
With the impending city enforcement efforts aimed to clear out the nearly 300 homeless living along the sidewalks in near the Children's Discovery Center after Labor Day, some park users say they fear even more homeless will call Kewalo Basin Park home.
The park is situated on the waterfront next to Ala Moana Beach Park, right behind Kewalo Basin Harbor off Ala Moana Boulevard. The heavily used park is popular for fishing and surfing and body surfing spots at "Kewalos" and "Point Panic. It's managed by the state agency, Hawaii Community Development Authority.
HCDA spokeswoman, Lindsey Doi, said they are aware of the public's concerns and they are working to address the issue.
Doi said one security guard patrols Kewalo Basin Park along with three other parks under their purview in that district, including Kakaako Waterfront, Kakaako Gateway and Kolowalu. She said the guard hired through their vendor, Honolulu Merchant Patrol, can ask the campers to leave, issue trespass notices and even call police and sheriffs if needed.
The park is closed to the public from 10:00 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. and no camping is allowed in the park at any time of day, said Doi.
Doi wasn't able to point to an exact number of incident reports made by the security vendor of homeless individuals, but she said actions are being taken and that it appears more reports were actually issued this time last year.
"However, the number of reports isn't necessarily an accurate indicator of how many campers/violations are occurring," Doi said. "Eyes cannot be on all locations at all times. And in some cases like in Kewalo Basin Park, there may be too many campers for one security guard to address."
Critics argue that a lack of security personnel and enforcement efforts by the HCDA shows a lack of concern for the public's safety and that more security is needed.
Frequent users like Billy believe there's a double standard - one for the public and one for the homeless.
Doi disputes that and says, "We do care."
Critics say they just want the HCDA to enforce the park rules fairly to everyone, otherwise stop closing the parking lot off to the rest of the public overnight.
Doi said in light of the public's concerns, the HCDA is re-evaluating the security vendor's efforts, but HCDA officials also waiting on more guidance from the state as to how to best address the homeless problem. But, she said, there are no plans at this time to hire more security.
"Instead of spending money on more security in the short term," which she described as a "band aid approach," Doi said, "We'd rather commit resources to long term solutions."
That includes funding more than $300,000 each year in grants to support homeless outreach efforts that fund a Jobs Training Program and Security Deposit Match program to help the homeless get back on their feet.
"We also are waiting to be part of the solution that will be introduced by the Governor's Leadership Team on Homelessness. We want to ensure we are ready and have adequate resources to do our part once that team rolls out their plan," Doi added.
Some Kewalo Basin Park users say some of the homeless have lived there for decades but haven't bothered anyone.
Frequent surfer, Shelley Arnold, said via email, "I have seen some of these long term Kewalos homeless, picking up litter left by visitors, sweeping the paths, and pulling weeds from the paths. These people also help in our community by collecting recyclables that would otherwise probably remain to pollute the land and marine environment."
When it comes to park maintenance, the HCDA spends about one million dollars each year for its four main Kakaako parks, according to Doi.
"Last month, we spent about $11,200 on water bills for those parks, and another $4,400 in electricity bills, she said. "This does not include our landscaping, janitorial, maintenance or repair costs, so you can see how quickly these costs can add up. It's also important to note that these costs come out of HCDA asset management funds, as we do not receive legislative appropriations for park maintenance."
Critics say the homeless these popular parks is having a negative impact on the public and visitors.
A flight attendant who frequently stops in Honolulu who asked not to be named said she walks thru the park often when she's here. She said, "It seems it's worse every time I'm here." The woman said she used to walk further into Kakaako but no longer does because of the homeless.
"Some elderly people who used to walk along this path, don't come this way anymore because they don't feel safe," said Billy.
Critics say when Ala Moana Beach Park had a major problem with the homeless in the parks, the city stepped up park closure enforcement and all they want is the state, through the HCDA, to do the same for Kewalo Basin Park.