Homeless building tree houses in Honolulu

Published: May. 6, 2014 at 8:30 PM HST
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Some of Honolulu's homeless are moving off the streets and into secluded tree houses. Tobias Debardeleben built his home a few days ago along the H-1 Freeway right outside the back fence of Foster Botanical Garden.

"They're making it impossible on the streets for anyone. They're kicking everyone off. You can't use bathrooms. You can't get electricity. They're giving fines out for everything," said Debardeleben.

The 47-year-old said he suffers from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. He told Hawaii News Now that he has been homeless for about a year after spending time in prison for theft.

"It was drugs and being stupid. It was my fault and I went to jail, and when I got out it was a bad situation where I just found myself broke," he explained.

Another home is tucked away in a tree along busy Nimitz Highway. Someone built a structure about 30 feet off the ground despite warning signs about trespassing.

"I think that people are looking for a safe place for themselves where they won't be in other people's way, but also they'll have their own space," said Connie Mitchell, executive director of the Institute for Human Services.

Debardeleben said he eats meals at IHS, but no longer stays at the shelter.

"It's congregate living. It's not for everyone. If you are afflicted with something that kind of makes you irritable, when you're around a lot of people, it's just not easy," said Mitchell.

Debardeleben said he is tired of moving around and is ready for a permanent home.

"They're making it almost against the law to be homeless. That's why I'm getting a place next week cause I got Social Security and they're giving me money, first and last month's to move into a place," he said.

The Hawaii Department of Transportation is waiting for confirmation, but officials believe that both tree houses are on state land. It's illegal to build anything within the DOT Right-of-Way without a permit, according to the agency.

"There's a lot of people living under the bridges and stuff. I don't like going under. I'd rather go up," said Debardeleben. "It's sort of nice up there. You're away from everything."

A DOT spokesperson said crews clean up encampments on Right-of-Ways, below bridges, and under viaducts every six months. The agency works with social service providers to help the homeless find shelter.

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