In tents and makeshift shelters, 100s call vacant property near airport viaduct home

In tents and makeshift shelters, 100s call vacant property near airport viaduct home
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's 9 a.m. Friday and Justin Phillips is going door to door, sort of.

"Hello? Anybody home?" he asks, calling out to the tenants of a tent tucked under the H-1 Freeway Nimitz Viaduct.

The homeless outreach worker is trying to wrangle people into checking out a job fair being offered nearby.

"You looking for work?" he asks.

Some 300 people live in and around the viaduct, homeless providers estimate.

That's double what it had been just six months ago, and advocates say Kakaako homeless sweeps are almost certain to blame for the surge.

"They don't have medical problems. They don't have mental illness," Phillips said. "Primary thing going on down here is poverty and substance abuse."

The increase in the number homeless in the area comes amid growing frustration over the state's homeless crisis. Some suggest policymakers aren't doing enough to solve the problem. Others are concerned that a lack of coordination among government agencies is slowing efforts to help those on the streets.

The homeless encampment near the airport viaduct is broken into two main areas. More than half sleep under the concrete viaduct, using tents, plywood and shopping carts to mark their area. The other camp is just beyond the highway.

The two homeless encampments represent a makeshift community of sorts, all of which has gone up on state land.

And some of the shelters are elaborate: Several people have used discarded wood and pallets to build makeshift homes, complete with windows and doors. Some homes even have fences. One has a basketball hoop and a punching bag.

When Hawaii News Now visited on a recent morning, there were few tenants around. The ones who were there were reluctant to get help.

"Medical attention. I need medical attention," said one man in a tent.

"You want to come out?" Phillips said.

"No, no, no, no," the man said.

Elsewhere in the camp, near a waterway that runs to the ocean, Bert Arriba is going about his day.

He's been on the streets in the area for a decade, and is excited about the prospect of work. "I've been trying to get a job but I just can't because I don't have a state ID," he said. "Maybe he can help me get an ID."

Other residents said they have jobs, they just can't afford rent.

Marlon Anthony works construction, but said he isn't interested in moving out of here quite yet.

"Some of the guys that are here have been my friends for a long time," he said. "And I get my kicks over here you know what I mean."

Over the course of the morning, outreach workers connected about 13 people with work and connected dozens of others with services. Phillips and his crew will return before long -- they visit the area every Friday -- and he hopes to see a few more people take him up on help.

"Being consistent is the no. 1 way to build relationships," he said. "and by building that relationship we are able to help eventually."

Mobile users: To see the counts of homeless on Oahu over time, click here.

Copyright 2016 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.