HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When the City and County of Honolulu conducts homeless sweeps across various parts of the island, the personal items that aren't tossed into the back of a garbage truck are usually kept in large green bins that are stored at a city lot in Halawa.
Since 2013, work crews say they've collected and transported 2,126 bins of personal property. All of it was removed from city property. Homeless people have 45 days to reclaim their items after sweeps, and when time is up, the items are destroyed.
Data obtained by Hawaii News Now shows nearly 95 percent of the contents of those bins – all 2,126 of them, over the last four years – has been destroyed.
Number of bins of personal items collected, compared with the number retrieved by homeless people:
- 2013: 358 (Collected) 2013: 21 (Retrieved)
- 2014: 883 (Collected) 2014: 79 (Retrieved)
- 2015: 344 (Collected) 2015: 23 (Retrieved)
- 2016: 407 (Collected) 2016: 18 (Retrieved)
- 2017: 134 (Year-to-Date, Collected) 2017: 26 (Year to Date, Retrieved)
The head of the Mayor's housing office says he isn't surprised by the number.
"A lot of property is collected, but very few people retrieve it, because most of the time it's property people don't really want or need," said Marc Alexander.
But many homeless people Hawaii News Now spoke to this week say they've lost valuable items during the sweeps. Nancy Merick was carrying two new bags when we found her in Kalihi; she says the city took her old ones during a sweep last week.
"My whole purse was taken, so my telephone... I've lost an ID," said Merick.
Hawaii News Now reviewed several notices upon which city workers have documented the items they've collected. Bedding, tents and clothing are the most common items listed, but we also found laptops, multiple wheelchairs, bikes, pieces of jewelry, tools, a purse, electronics and several suitcases filled with unknown items.
During enforcement, campers get as little as 30 minutes notice to clear out of certain areas. Sometimes, they're not even there to collect their things – that's what happened to a man named Michael, who didn't give us his last name because he doesn't want his boss to find out he's homeless.
"They took my tools, money I had in my wallet. I had about $30," he said. "But my ID and stuff was in there."
They city admits it doesn't search people's property, but says it's rare to come across IDs. Officials also claim they've never found any cash during homeless enforcements.
"I don't think that's accurate," said Nick Kacprowski, a lawyer with Alston, Hunt, Floyd and Ing in Honolulu.
Kacprowski has helped several homeless campers sue the city making it easier for people to retrieve their belongings, but the biggest barrier, he says, remains getting to the warehouse in Halawa.
"I think the key thing is to try and get a place closer to town, where this stuff can be stored," said Kacprowski.
Roxane Paxton has been homeless for more than a year. She says she's been through more sweeps than she can count and has never gone to collect her things.
"It's very hard, because we don't have transportation," said Paxton.
The city says it has no plans to store people's belongings closer to town.
"I don't think that is a real issue. I think the real issues is that we need to find other means to store people's IDs and key information, and that's best done in a shelter," said Alexander.
City officials say the goal of enforcement is to link people to housing. Alexander say on average there are between 200 and 300 empty shelter beds every night.