HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Canoe clubs at Keehi Lagoon are growing more frustrated with a relatively small group of squatters they say are a danger to families who use the park.
The situation is a disappointing setback, they say, after things had seemed to be getting better.
Recently, paddlers said they’d noticed welcome changes in the water.
Gino Dayton, the head of Keola O Ke Kai Canoe Club, said the improvements came after the government evicted a massive homeless camp just upstream at the Nimitz viaduct.
“We’ve seen life come back to the ocean. The turtles are coming in again. Stuff that we haven’t seen in the past 20 years,” Dayton said.
Now, he said, the concern is the land.
“We’ve got to take care of the aina,” he said, referring to several small homeless camps that have popped up among the canoes.
Dayton says his club started having problems when rail construction displaced squatters that once lived under the bridge. During the day, there’s just a handful of campers.
But, he says, that changes in the afternoon.
“You’ll have 20 to 30 of them that will come in and find their spots,” said Dayton.
Over the past year, the club’s equipment box has been broken into. The bathrooms have been vandalized. Canoes have been damaged. Dayton even found an ama ― the float of an outrigger canoe ― that had been stolen, snapped in half under the Nimitz viaduct.
He says the group of squatters isn’t just people down on their luck. They’ve encountered people who are mentally ill, drug users, even a child predator.
“One of them tried to lure eight and 10-year-old sisters into the men’s restroom by telling them I’ll show you my private parts," Dayton said.
The head of the city’s Housing Office said the area is on his radar.
“We regularly outreach in that area,” said Marc Alexander. “We also enforce the laws.”
He said over the past month the city has swept Keehi Lagoon park twice. But he admits what’s been reported is troubling, and said he would take it to HPD.
He also asked the community to report these kinds of problems on the city’s updated 311 mobile app.
Alexander said, “You can take a picture and you can send in information or a concern anonymously. That also helps to flag it for our attention.”
In the meantime, Dayton said paddlers have been patient but that the time for action is now.
“Violence is not the answer,” he said. “But if they’re not going to do something to protect our children we don’t want anything to happen.”
He also asked the city if it had plans to repair a comfort station at the park that was set on fire back three years ago. Alexander says the city wants to tear it down but there’s no timeline on when that could happen. He said the city will have to seek funds for reconstruction.