KAKAAKO, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Just a year and a half after a Kakaako park opened following a major makeover, residents complain it's filling up with homeless ousted from nearby parks and a preschool is no longer allowing its children to play there.
Homeless people living at Mother Waldron Park in Kakaako who declined on-camera interviews told Hawaii News Now they moved there last fall after sweeps that kicked them out of other areas in Kakaako.
There were about a dozen homeless camp sites at the park Wednesday after about another dozen homeless moved out because of a city sweep overnight.
"Every time we were coming, there would be an incident. There would be unsafe people here, all the homeless who were living here, we just didn't feel safe," said Desiree Ferguson, director of Ke Aloha Hookahi Preschool, which is located a block and a half away from the park.
She stopped bringing her 50 students aged two to five to the park to play last week because of the homeless population there.
"We found broken glass, knives, the playground smells of urine," Ferguson said.
City Facility Maintenance Director Ross Sasamura said, "We certainly have concerns about that. And what we would ask the public to do is call 768-3585 if they have any issues relating to some potential health and safety threats caused by the storage of personal property."
City employees seized and cataloged unclaimed homeless people's belongings just across the street from the park Wednesday morning, an example of the 14 night-time sweeps and four day-time sweeps the city conducted here last year.
There have been three sweeps already this year, city officials said.
"Our crews are out five days a week," Sasamura said. "And we do earnestly enforce both ordinances that are charged to our department. And we ask that everybody help us to let us know where we can direct our efforts to help everyone keep free and easy access to public facilities."
But there have also been problems in the restrooms at Mother Waldron that the city temporarily closed in December for re-roofing.
"We have unfortunately witnessed people having oral sex here at the park in the restrooms," said Ferguson, from the preschool. Or walking into the restrooms and people were in there bathing. So they were undressed. And you can't take kids in there. We don't want to see that."
She said her preschool has allowed three children of homeless families to attend classes on full scholarships, so the school wants to work with the homeless but grew increasingly concerned about the kids' safety in the park.
Park users said residents of an elderly rental project across the street that used to hold exercise classes in the park in the morning no longer do so because of the homeless.
Oren Schlieman, who works in Chinatown and walks his dog near Mother Waldron and other Kakaako parks, said, "You know, I feel sorry for the people but at the same time, there's a form of civility that the city needs to express about helping these people out and a form of civility to us for the keeping the parks clean and safe."
The city unveiled improvements to Mother Waldron Park in September 2014, thanks to more than $500,000 donated by Stanford Carr, developer of the neighboring Halekauwila Place apartments. The funding paid for a new basketball court and playground, along with new landscaping and trees. The restroom and pavilion were also restored as part of the project.