Waimanalo's closed park little improved
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer
WAIMANALO Few visible improvements have been made at the Waimanalo Beach Park campground since the city closed the site for renovation three months ago, forcing dozens of homeless adults and children to leave.
When the campground was shut Sept. 4 for what was called a major facelift, the city said it would install new picnic tables, new signs to designate camping sites and new vehicular barriers. The grass would have a chance to regenerate and the area would be thoroughly cleaned.
As the campground prepares to reopen this week, the grass is greener and the sites are neat and tidy, but there are no new picnic tables and no new barriers. There are new signs telling people where they cannot camp.
The city Parks Department did not respond to requests for comment, but Wilson Ho, chairman of the Waimanalo Neighborhood Board, said the improvements weren't expected to make a big impact on the site.
"They were just redoing some of the areas, letting the grass grow, getting rid of fleas and painting the restroom," Ho said.
Regular campers say nothing has changed at the site, and the city hasn't told them when it would reopen.
"As you can see there's nothing there," said Noel Kahalewai, a homeless camper who was having breakfast at the beach park yesterday. "There's no development. There's nothing."
The city closed the site after the Waimanalo Neighborhood Board asked that it be cleaned and improved. But it was widely acknowledged that part of the reason for closing the site was to rid the campground of its homeless population, some of whom had become a nuisance to neighbors who complained of crime, trash and troublesome campers.
The campground needed to be reclaimed for the public, members of the neighborhood board said. And community members agreed, some with regret.
Camping resumes Friday, and two of the 22 slots had been reserved by yesterday morning.
But there may not be 22 slots for long.
Neighborhood board member Andrew Jamila Jr. said the city is preparing to build a canoe halau and volleyball court at the camp site.
"The city will eliminate the camp sites by the river and put in a beach volleyball area," Jamila said.
Kahalewai said he moved from place to place in Waimanalo for the last three months because of police sweeps conducted to move out illegal campers. Of the dozens of other homeless campers from Waimanalo Beach Park, some found permanent homes, a few moved out of the Waimanalo area and a handful remain on the beaches, he said.
Community groups have helped the homeless, Kahalewai said, adding that he is grateful for the assistance and food provided by Waimanalo Hawaiian Homes Association, St. Matthew's Church, St. George Church, Honolulu Community Action Program, Seventh-Day Adventist and Hope Chapel.
"Without them we wouldn't have good nourishing food," he said.
Frankie Vaughn, who has been homeless for more than two years, said she tried several times to get a permit to camp at Waimanalo Bay, also called Sherwood, but the permits often were gone. However, when Vaughn would check the site, she said she found few people there, making her believe that campers were being cheated out of sites.
"They got rid of us (at Waimnalo Beach Park); they got rid of us (at Waimanalo Bay)," Vaughn said. "So we go to Bellows (where camping is legal) or we stay at Makapu'u (where camping isn't permitted)."
There was concern that healthcare and other service providers would lose contact with homeless clients when the campground closed.
On Monday, the Waikiki Health Center Care-A-Van visited the park, but outreach workers couldn't find the estimated 15 people they once served there.
"Quite often our Care-A-Van staff is the linkage between a homeless person and the services they might receive," Mary Spadaro, director of development at the Waikiki Health Center, said yesterday. "So when our outreach worker ... loses touch with a person, we've really lost touch."
Reach Eloise Aguiar at firstname.lastname@example.org or 234-5266.