KAKAAKO, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Tuesday marked the start of what city and state officials have been calling a "phased approach" to addressing a growing homeless encampment in Kaka'ako. It targeted one area specifically -- between Ohe and Cooke Street from Ilalo Street to Ala Moana Boulevard.
Workers with the Honolulu Department of Facility Maintenance cleared mattresses, wheelchairs, and makeshift structures. They loaded up bike parts and an abandoned BBQ, along with piles of trash. Caution tape went up along the shoulder of Ohe Street where tents were once pitched to prevent people from moving back.
"I think everything is going as we had hoped and we hope the other areas will be just as easy for us to clear. Hopefully there aren't too many people that tend to dig in and want to stay," said Ross Sasamura, the Director and Chief Engineer of the City and County of Honolulu's Department of Facility Maintenance.
While crews had the cooperation of businesses and landowners mauka of Ilalo Street, the area makai of it was outside their designated enforcement zone -- and as a result, several homeless people relocated there instead.
"I'm not surprised, but we'll be in those areas in due time," Sasamura said, though a specific date has not been scheduled.
Linda Hillier has been homeless for nearly two years. She was living along Cooke Street, but she relocated to Ilalo Street outside of the designated enforcement zone about thirty minutes before crews passed through.
"Luckily I walked around and saw this open space and I'm happy. I'm just hot," said Hillier.
She says she doesn't want to move into a shelter because at 57, she's too old for a curfew. Hillier says she's also a cancer survivor, and she doesn't want to be crammed into a small space she'll have to share with strangers. She says if she can't get directly into housing she'd rather take her chances on the street.
"I don't plan nothing. I just go day by day. Whatever happens, happens. My future is in God's will. I believe in Jesus, I just wish he would hurry up and come," Hillier said.
Most of the homeless people who were living in the designated enforcement area cleared out before officials arrived. One woman waited as long as possible to pack up. She says she won't be going to a shelter because she has a dog and doesn't want to be separated. She was later seen relocating to another Kaka'ako sidewalk outside of the designated enforcement area.
A couple with a toddler said they misunderstood when crews would be coming through, but they were given time to gather their belongings, which they carted across the street into a park outside of the designated enforcement area.
"Our last enforcement here on a large-scale basis was in November of 2014, and the fact that we haven't come back in such a long time is testament to really how well-established an encampment can become. There's a lot of documentation of the real heavy encampment on Ohe Street -- makai of Ilalo -- with all of the elaborate structures that are there, and that's what can happen overtime if we're not there to actually provide that compassionate disruption -- causing people to uproot themselves and move to other areas. We hope that it's an incentive for them to seek shelter, but for those that don't and want to stay at any one location for a given time, you can expect to see those complex encampments that we see here," Sasamura said.
There was a heavy presence of plain-clothes Honolulu Police officers and Department of Public Safety sheriff's deputies -- but there were no incidents or confrontations, only one outburst when crews collected the first tent and issued their only citation.
"Shame on you guys. You guys promised us. Shame on all of you. Shame. Shame. There's no solution to this, you guys are taking everybody's stuff. What about tomorrow? What everybody going to do tomorrow?" Nessa Vierre shouted at crews.
According to state officials, a family of six and five individuals chose to board a city bus headed for the Lighthouse Outreach shelter in Waipahu. Prior to Tuesday's enforcement action, officials say 56 people -- including 10 families -- have left Kaka'ako for various shelters since the area was surveyed on August 3. At that time, officials counted 293 people -- more than 40% were families.