Homeless overrun Wahiawa lot as city faces legal bump in cleanup

Homeless overrun Wahiawa lot with violence, drugs as city faces legal bump in cleanup
Published: Jun. 22, 2017 at 9:17 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 23, 2017 at 9:22 AM HST
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(Image: Philip Lanzalotto)
(Image: Philip Lanzalotto)

WAHIAWA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Sandwiched between a couple homes off Ohai Street in Wahiawa is an encampment with a notorious reputation. Made up of junk cars, hidden beneath a canopy of tarps, it's so entrenched you can barely make out the house behind it.

Neighbors call it the 'Ice Palace.'

Despite nearby residents pleading for the city's help to clean it up, an alleged mistake on some paperwork is providing a legal challenge for all involved.

"There are new faces there all the time. It's usually to pick up drugs," said "Joe"

Fearful of retaliation, most residents agreed to talk only if we hid their identity, and for good reason. Neighbors haven't just been threatened - they've been the targets of violence.

"He assaulted me. He stabbed me," said Philip Lanzalotto.

Lanzalotto lives close by and used to feed the people living there.

Last year after witnessing a fight, he says one of the men living at the camp snatched a beer glass off his porch, broke it and stabbed him in the back.

"It was a couple inches deep. It took them three months to catch him. He stabbed me and ran away," said Lanzalotto.

Neighbors say they're constantly calling police. They've also complained to the city. Records show the building department has issued $20,000 in fines for violations related to the squatters.

"They take electricity, they take water, they take everything. Then they fight and argue and you're trying to sleep so you can get up and go to work. What can we do? Because it's not fair," said Lanzalotto.

Although the home is in the foreclosure process, a representative from the Atlanta based mortgage company Ocwen says it does not yet own the property. Because of that it cannot evict the squatters.

Councilman Ernie Martin's office says the cooperation of the property owner is paramount for the city to take action.

Hawaii News Now was able to track down a Wahiawa resident who is listed on the deed. The woman owned several properties in the neighborhood.

She says when the bank foreclosed back in 2011, they put the wrong address on the paper work.  She claims that's what's caused this mess.

Meantime, neighbors say they're tired of living this way.

"I think our neighborhood has been punished long enough by our city government in allowing this to be there," said "Joe"

Hawaii News Now spoke with the Mayor's office. They are working to see if anything can be done.

Ocwen says it is also looking into working with the homeowners association and the judicial system to remove the debris off the property.

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