Homeless return to Kapalama canal hours after enforcement

Homeless return to Kapalama canal hours after enforcement
Published: Jun. 9, 2015 at 9:47 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 9, 2015 at 10:14 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A day after the homeless encampment along the Kapalama Canal was given notice to pack their belongings, crews moved through to clean up and enforce the city's stored property ordinance -- which officials say is designed to keep public areas safe and sanitary. But just hours after crews cleared the area Tuesday morning, many of the homeless who were camping out here had already returned.

Stefanie Sanchez has been living along Kohou Street with her 4-year-old daughter for three months now. She says she missed a trip to the Food Bank Tuesday to make sure their belongings weren't taken.
"There's people who miss work. There's people who miss school. There's people who get their things swept because maybe their bus was late or something and then they have to start all over. It just sets us back.  To me, in my opinion it does nothing productive but waste the state's money on the workers that have to come through," said Sanchez. 
City officials confirm they spend about $15,000 a week on enforcements -- that's about $1.9 million since January 2013. 

Officials say they're aware that in many instances, the homeless return within hours.

"I think if anything it's an expression of the need for some more permanent solutions to address the issue and just to make it clear the stored property ordinance and sidewalk nuisances ordinances are not designed to target homeless people or homelessness.  We're here to make sure that those travel ways those pathways are available to people, to allow pedestrians and others to traverse safely without stepping out into the street to get around or tripping on objects that are in the pathway," explained Ross Sasamura, the Director of the Dept. of Facility Maintenance for the City and County of Honolulu. 
Sanchez says she's enrolled for Housing First, but is still waiting. In six months, the city has placed 77 people.
"It's the lack of available supply that keeps people on the street longer.  If we had more available, we'd be able to get people right in, right away,"
said Jun Yang, the Executive Director of the Mayor's Office of Housing. 
State officials say there is no silver bullet solution to solving the problem of homelessness in our community, but affordable housing is a top priority. In the meantime, however, recent surveys indicate about 16% of available shelter space - or 550 beds - is empty nightly.
"We need to look at ways to increase access.  We need to make it easier for people to enter and make it more difficult for them to fall out.  So instead of one strike and you're out -- maybe you'll get two or three strikes, so that they want to go to the shelter," said Colin Kippen, the State Homeless Coordinator. 

City officials say crews are dispatched to areas based on complaints they receive from the public. In the last four weeks, they have removed 22.5 tons of garbage -- along with 130 shopping carts -- and stored 35 bins worth of personal belongings. 

The same area along Kohou Street and Kapalama Canal cleared during Tuesday's enforcement is now included in the city's expanded sit-lie ban. However, that new ordinance hasn't been enforced yet.  When it does, it will be Honolulu police officers not city crews. 

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