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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 13, 2003

Ala Moana Park homeless targeted

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

The city is stepping up criminal enforcement and cleaning procedures at Ala Moana Beach Park in response to homeless people living there, while social service providers say those people have nowhere else to go but onto the streets.

At least 150 people are estimated to live in Ala Moana park, leading to complaints from some park visitors.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Police have been warning homeless people in the park that they will be forced to leave while parks workers power-wash bathrooms, remove possessions left in the trees and on benches and while police ticket campers, confiscate stolen bicycles and clamp down on illegal drug and alcohol use.

The plan is to close the park periodically on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights from midnight to 4 a.m. Police would make everyone leave the park so longstanding problems with filthy restrooms and shopping carts and possessions left in the park can be dealt with, said Honolulu Police Maj. Michael Tucker.

"We are going to be in Ala Moana tonight, but it is not a sweep by police," Tucker said yesterday. "We are going to be there assisting the parks people so they can clean. Since there are no activities that are supposed to be taking place, that is the best time."

Several social service groups, including Waikiki Health Center, Kalihi-Palama Health Center and the Institute for Human Services, will be on hand to help the estimated 150 to 200 people who live in the park.

"I don't know what we are going to do with those people, but we are going to tell them their options," said Catherine Graham with IHS. "I don't even know what those options are right now."

IHS has two shelters in Honolulu, both filled, Graham said.

Tucker said police would not stop anyone from entering the park once the clean-up is done.

One park resident who goes by the name Tapu keeps her meager possessions stored under a tree and at a picnic bench, which doubles as a bed at night. She keeps the area clean and befriends children and families that pass by. Her toiletries are neatly stored in a plastic bag, and she uses a broken hand mirror for grooming.

"I've got nowhere to go," said Tapu, who plans to resist the forced move. "This is a public park. I'm staying right here at this table."

Her friend Keoki, also homeless, encouraged her not to risk a $100 ticket for illegal camping, but to leave the park during the cleaning.

City Managing Director Ben Lee said the cleaning is not an effort to force the homeless out of the park. Just a year ago, the city removed public benches from a portion of Fort Street Mall and police began enforcing rules to close the mall at night, forcing many of the homeless population from that area to Ala Moana.

"The homeless want to be left alone, but tend to monopolize the restrooms, and the general public is intimidated by this," Lee said.

"The Parks Department goes in and cleans it and an hour later it is a mess. We are not heartless and cruel and uncompassionate to the homeless. It just gives us time to clean up the place."

John Breinich, chairman of the Ala Moana Neighborhood Board, said the board receives many complaints about the homeless in the park.

"There is compassion about their situation, but they cause park users to be afraid of some of the people, and they make visits to the park unpleasant," Breinich said.

Kalani Smith is a retired firefighter who visits the park daily for swimming and exercise. Smith, 68, said he stays away from the Kaka'ako end of the park, where the "dope addicts" hang out.

But Smith also has another concern. He knows Tapu, and worries about her being alone in the park at night.

Reach James Gonser at jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2431.