Drone captures hidden homeless camps that dot Oahu’s south shore

Updated: Aug. 20, 2019 at 6:00 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Walking along Diamond Head Road, homeless camps might not seem like much of a problem.

It’s not until you get a bird’s eye view of the situation that there’s a true understanding of just how entrenched the cliff side encampment has become.

High above Kuilei Cliff Beach Park local photographer, Ethan Tweedie, unknowingly captured a photograph of a mostly hidden homeless camp near one of Oahu’s richest neighborhoods.

“I just flew my drone did a little panorama,” said Tweedie. “I started zooming in on the picture to make sure it was clean for the print and started noticing all the homeless camps.”

Credit: Ethan Tweedie
Credit: Ethan Tweedie

Tweedie says he took the photo in May. It shows a total of 42 separate campsites. Since then, he says, squatters have just kept coming.

“It’s kind of appalling to be honest with you," he said.

Up close, many of the camps are surrounded by piles of rubbish accompanied by a pungent smell of urine and feces.

There’s also evidence of fires on the cliff side.

One of the messiest camps HNN found sits at the base of a brand new switchback trail the city opened earlier this month as part of a $2 million improvement project.

People who live nearby say the park’s not safe and a recent crime wave has the community on edge.

“In the last three weeks we’ve had six break-ins in our neighborhood,” said resident Stephany Sofos. “Nothing’s getting done. Nothing’s happening and we’re having to defend ourselves.”

The encampments are on government property split between two jurisdictions.

The state is responsible for Diamond Head Monument while the city maintains the Kuilei Cliffs and the beach below.

Nathan Serota, spokesperson for Honolulu’s Department of Parks and Recreation, said the last time either area was swept was more than six months ago.

The next enforcement isn’t planned until late September.

“We try to do enforcements as much as possible but it comes out to about two enforcements a year because it takes a significant amount of manpower,” said Serota.

The city added that it’s gearing up to launch a new psychiatric street medicine program targeting addicts and mentally ill campers in the area.

In the meantime, officials from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources says they’re thinking about building a chain link fence on the monument.

They say a 4,000-foot-long, 12-foot-high barricade would cost more than a half million dollars.

Marc Alexander, head of the Mayor’s Office of Housing, is also urging residents to call police to report illegal campsites. He said the city wants to know about it, too.

Some neighbors scoffed at the response telling HNN they’ve done it ― repeatedly. Sofos said, “We see it, we call on it. We have videos of it. Nothing gets done.”

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