State agency pleads for more help with trespassers in Kakaako parks

State agency pleads for more help with trespassers in Kakaako parks
Updated: Jul. 24, 2017 at 6:21 PM HST
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KAKAAKO (HawaiiNewsNow) - The executive director of the Hawaii Community Development Authority said since April the number of illegal campers in Kakaako parks under HCDA supervision has nearly doubled.

"We issue civil citations, and we haven't seen a change in the activities in the park," Jesse Souki said.

About 100 people are living in tents, most of them in Kakaako Waterfront Park. Property crimes like broken power outlets and damaged water pipes in the parks have also increased.

HCDA's written notices of violations to illegal campers and park trespassers amount to warnings.The agency has no policing powers to remove illegal campers and trespassers who remain in the park after hours.

"The effectiveness of the citations issued by HCDA staff is readily observable. The number of illegal campsites has increased," Souki said.

He wants more help from the Department of Public Safety and Honolulu police to enforce park rules. Officers with both agencies patrol the parks but Souki believes stepped up enforcement would force park violators to leave.

"Law enforcement can help with deterrents by being there, by telling folks, 'Hey, this is serious stuff.' Maybe, running a warrant check while they're doing this type of thing," he said. "We need the citations to be taken seriously."

But state homeless coordinator Scott Morishige said court rulings have made it tougher for officers to remove people from the Kakaako parks.

"This is not something that should solely fall on the shoulders of law enforcement. It does require a coordinated response from the landowner, from law enforcement, and from homeless service providers," he said.

Public Safety information officer Toni Schwartz said sheriffs' deputies continue to remind park users of the hours of use through regular park closure announcements twice a day.

"Shelter must be available with reasonable means for the homeless to get to those shelters, before law enforcement can request individuals and families to vacate the parks after they close," she said.

Morishige promises continued focus on the problem.

Souki hopes something's done quickly. With the state and city sweeping  homeless from Nimitz Highway and the areas along the freeway this week, HCDA posted a warning on its Facebook page to expect more illegal campers to move into the Kakaako parks.

"I hope that we can address the issue before it really gets out of hand, like it was previously," Souki said.