Kaka'ako homeless families bounce from city to state property to avoid seizures

Kaka'ako homeless families bounce from city to state property to avoid seizures

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu officials spend about $3,500 a week enforcing the city's sidewalk nuisance and stored property ordinances.

On Wednesday, crews tackled a problem spot in Kaka'ako, where dozens of homeless families have set up their tents along the sidewalks.

"We may be houseless but we're not second-class citizens. Do you know how many people in this state are one paycheck away from where we are right now?" one woman said, describing the enforcement efforts as "one of the most painful and demeaning actions" she's experienced.

In this homeless community, kids outnumber the parents. Most of them were in school Wednesday morning when the red tape went up to clear their belongings, but at least one student stayed behind to help her family move their stuff before it could get confiscated.

"It helps if your possessions are mobile mostly, it makes it easier when it's on wheels but sometimes you can't help," explained Corilynn Campbell, who is seven months pregnant and needed her daughter's help.

They are one of approximately 45 families who have relocated from Ohe Street to the Kaka'ako Makai Gateway park, some moving as little as 5 feet. Campbell has been through at least a dozen enenforcement's in the past two years. She says what she and and others have learned is where and when they can move their belongings to avoid having them confiscated.

"We're here now because they can't remove us, because the park is open for now. Until the park closes, we're good, but then we're going to have to take our chances back out there," Campbell said, gesturing toward Ohe Street.

Other families moved their belongings onto the pavement of a dead-end street.

"A city official came over and told them that if they went behind the concrete berm their stuff would be protected from raiding for 24 hours, but tomorrow -- 24 hours from now, they will be subject to having their stuff stolen by the city so they were told they got to take it to some place safe, just not the park. But the city fails to tell them where is a safe zone, that's one of the problems with the city's policy is that they're not setting up safe zones for homeless people to go to," said Bart Dame, who volunteered to help some of the homeless families move their stuff. "The city is talking about compassionate disruption, I just see the disruption.  I'm waiting for the compassion to begin."

Officials say Kaka'ako jurisdiction is one of their biggest challenges. The park is state property, but the sidewalks belong to the city -- and OHA and Kamehameha Schools are also landowners in the area. They say their efforts aren't aimed at punishing the homeless, but ensuring public safety.

"The enforcement is meant for the one million people who call O'ahu home to be able to go about their day, to be able to get to their jobs safely and at the same time the city is addressing the issue of homelessness through housing first and through temporary housing plans that we're moving forward with. We're doing both at the same time and both need to be done," said Jesse Broder Van Dyke, the Director of Communications for the City and County of Honolulu.

Officials say their housing first program paired with Mayor Kirk Caldwell's compassionate disruption initiative is getting people off the sidewalks and into shelters, a key step to ending homelessness.

"We are beginning to identify what the needs are for the people who are on the street, that's the biggest thing that we need to know -- better information to service and create the resources and match the resources together with individuals," said Jun Yang, the Mayor's Office of Housing Director.

Tabitha Martin says each time crews come through to enforce city ordinances, the families take a hit.

"Not physically, but psychologically. Mentally. Emotionally. It just destroys your spirit. They can kick us out but you got to give us a place to go because you're just moving us around, you know what I mean? It's not solving the problem," Martin said.

Officials say outreach workers with local shelters make contact with the homeless before city crews come through for enforcements. According to the city, there is available space for both individuals and families at both of the nearby shelters in the Kaka'ako area as of Wednesday afternoon.

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