A frightening encounter underscores difficulties outreach workers face

A frightening encounter underscores difficulties outreach workers face

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Outreach workers were warning homeless on Diamond Head of an upcoming sweep Thursday when a man quietly walked up behind them, carrying a knife.

"I thought I saw like a military style gas mask cause it was something that was covering his face.  He was waving something around in his hands," said Heather Lusk, of the CHOW Project.

A camera captured the moment the six member team realized what was happening.

"Oh my God, he's got a knife!" said one team member.

Outreach workers backed away from the man, who apparently lives in a tent on Diamond Head. With a knife in one hand and a broom handle in the other, he never said a word but trailed the workers as they left the area.

"Even though he had a knife it didn't feel like he was trying to use it. I think he was trying to startle us and get us out of there before that happened," Lusk said.

The incident underscores the difficulty outreach workers face as they seek to help Hawaii's chronically homeless.

Scott Morishige, the governor's homeless czar, said it's rare for outreach workers to encounter a homeless person with a weapon.

But as a precaution, they get crisis resolution training, and workers often travel in pairs.

"I think this situation is unexpected," he said.

Morishige added outreach teams have been working the Diamond Head area without trouble since December. Most of the interactions have been positive. A total of six people have been placed into housing.

"It's important for people to know not every situation is dangerous," he said.

"But you always need to be aware of your surroundings. Most people who fall into homelessness are members of our community who have fallen on hard times or found themselves in situations that they never expected to be in," Morishige said.

Since the scare, workers at the CHOW Project have implemented new security measures.

"Some of our male outreach workers have gone there alone and that will change," Lusk said.

The state also has a message for hikers: Although no trespassing signs are already posted in the area, they're asking people to stay away from restricted areas of the monument.

"Unless you have permission from the state or you're a trained outreach provider these areas are not areas the general public should be going into particularly because many of these camps are hidden and isolated," Morishige said.

Enforcement on Diamond Head will go ahead as planned next month. To report encampments on state land, call 586-0193.

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