State hires private company to rid H-1 freeway of homeless campers

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - High above Oahu's H-1 Freeway, dozens of tents filled with homeless people teeter on steep embankments. A few miles away, others are spilling off the sidewalk and practically living in the street along portions of Nimitz Highway.

Neither will continue to happen for very much longer.

"It's not safe for anyone involved," said Department of Transportation spokesman Tim Sakahara.

Starting on Tuesday, the agency will use $2 million from the state legislature and another $2 million from it's maintenance fund to rid both areas of homeless campers.

Up until this month, limited money and manpower made it impossible to keep people out. The money has allowed the state to hire a private contractor to sweep the property anytime camps pop-up.

Sheriffs will also be paid to monitor the areas to make sure no one comes back.

"The plan is to primarily focus on the H-1 corridor, essentially from Middle Street to Kahala, as well as Nimitz Highway from River Street to the Pearl Harbor Interchange," said Sakahara.

It's estimated there are a combined 80 people living in the two areas.

In the meantine, officials say there are another 200 campers under the Nimitz Viaduct, an area that hasn't been swept in two years. When we asked if any of the money would be used there, we didn't get a straight answer.

"Right now, the immediate priority is those areas, where there are encampments immediately overlooking the H-1," said state homeless coordinator Scott Morishige.

For now, outreach teams are focusing on getting people into shelter ahead of next week's enforcement. They will also be on hand during the sweeps.

"We check shelter availability on a regular basis," says Morishige. "We always make sure that there are available shelter beds for people to go into."

If the project does work, the DOT plans it bring it to other areas of Oahu, as well as on the neighbor islands.

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