Despite cleanup efforts, dozens of homeless return to Kakaako park

KAKAAKO, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - If you've driven along Ala Moana Boulevard past the Kakaako Gateway Parks recently, no doubt you've noticed the dozens of homeless campers who have returned to the area.

Despite repeated and costly attempts to clear the parks for safer, more sanitary public use, officials say they're going to need a new tactic to address the homeless population that keeps coming back.

There are a number of challenges officials are facing when it comes to keeping Kakaako Gateway Parks clear of illegal homeless campers — one of the biggest obstacles is jurisdiction.

The green grass of the park is owned by the state through Hawaii Community Development Authority. That area is open to the public from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m.

HCDA has hired a private security firm to patrol and enforce the park closure hours, but when that happens, the homeless simply move their tents and their belongings over — just a few inches in some cases — to the sidewalk, which is not under the jurisdiction of HCDA. It is instead under the jurisdiction of the city and where security has no authority to make them leave.

"We own the park, but we don't own the sidewalk. And so we can push people out of the park, but we don't have any jurisdictional authority over the sidewalk," said Garett Kamemoto, the interim HCDA Executive Director.

Homeless have been aware of this loophole and used it to their advantage for years.

"It's a border line for city, county and state. So during the day, we can go on state property and at night we go into city and county," said a man who has been living on the streets of Kakaako for the last seven years.

Officials are now saying the only solution is to transfer control of the parks and the sidewalks around them to one entity.

HCDA's board will vote on the proposal next week.

HCDA officials say they are a redevelopment agency that constructed the parks with the intention it would also be turned over to the city to oversee, but for one reason or another, it hasn't happened, and now they're hoping to change that to be able to better address an entrenched group of squatters.

City officials confirm the proposal to transfer Kakaako's parks to the city is supported by Mayor Kirk Caldwell. A spokesperson for the city says if it were to go through, one of the benefits to the public would be increased park hours from 4 a.m., rather than 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily.

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