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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, March 3, 2005

One'ula Beach homeless hit road

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Central O'ahu Writer

For the homeless, police sweeps are just a fact of a hard life.

Edward Rose, who is homeless, and his dog prepare to leave One'ula Beach Park as a stream of police cars arrives for a sweep of the area.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

The countdown begins as soon as tents go up. The question is not if it will happen but when. A year in one place is a bonus for people used to being on the move.

The sweep came yesterday morning to One'ula Beach Park, better known as hau bush to 'Ewa Beach residents.

Between 25 and 30 homeless people, most living in a 200-feet-wide thicket of kiawe and haole koa within city boundaries at the west end of the park, left before 45 police officers arrived at about 6:15 a.m. They had been told of the sweep in January and again in writing last week.

The sweep was spurred by community concerns about crime, litter, illegal camping and safety at the park.

Yesterday, a patrol officer went in alone at about 3 a.m. to talk to the remaining illegal campers, convincing them to hasten their packing and depart.

In the frantic hours before the sweep, families, with the help of friends and relatives, loaded what they could into cars and vans in front of news reporters and TV cameras. Darkness didn't hide the tears, or their fears about where they would be come nightfall.

Jacqueline "Auntie Jackie" Tomisa, 53, knows the feeling. So does Clinton Saragosa, 15.

A homeless man carries his belongings from One'ula Beach Park after the sweep. The police said that although they were sympathetic to the plight of the homeless, their objective was to make the park safe.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

They settled at hau bush after being swept out more than a year ago from Kalaeloa.

Tomisa came alone to hau bush but soon found herself managing a campsite that included 10 others willing to follow her rules.

"They gave me so much respect," Tomisa said tearfully of her fellow campers. "I put in a lot of work and a lot of service to others here, so it's hard to leave."

Clinton's family — which includes his parents and two siblings, ages 13 and 11 — lived near Tomisa's camp. He's among 17 children who have lived in the bush for the past year, his mother Cindy Saragosa said.

No one wants this kind of life for their children, Cindy Saragosa said, "but they bathe, go to school and get good grades. My husband and I work.

"These are difficult times," she said, "yet the public thinks homeless is all about drugs. Well, it's not. It's about welfare reform. My husband is a journeyman carpenter and a convicted felon who hasn't been in trouble for 12 years. But business is slow and no one wants a journeyman when they can hire cheaper. We've been evicted twice, but I can tell you we've learned a lot living on the beach that will make us work harder when our chance comes again."

Cindy Saragosa has cried herself to sleep many times. Her son hears his mother's sobs at night, and cries himself.

"I cry, too, when I think about memories of when we had everything and how it is now," said Clinton, who said he feels ashamed to be homeless. "It's hard, and I used to try and hide it from everyone. But I learned to appreciate what I got, even though the fact is I don't have a house.

"The first sweep was at Kalaeloa, but this one hurts more because we don't know where we can go," Clinton said. "They treat us like criminals. It's really hard, too hard, so it would be easy to give up. But I just keep praying to God that I can help (my family)."

To do it, Clinton wants to become a world-class surfing champion.

A short distance away from the Saragosas, Manu Rivera stood near two vans loaded with her family's possessions.

Rivera's family is staying with a cousin. She learned yesterday afternoon that her Section 8 federal rent subsidy application, filed on April 20, 2002, has finally landed on the waiting list.

Rivera's husband is due to get his general maintenance license later this week to do landscape work.

"A couple of days for us makes a big difference," she said. "It's day to day, and we've been close before. We're not sitting back doing nothing."

Homeless camps have become part of O'ahu's landscape, and recent sweeps have targeted not only 'Ewa Beach, but also Mokule'ia and Wahiawa.

Eighty percent of the estimated 20,000 homeless in Hawai'i are living at O'ahu beaches and parks. Officials said the major pockets of homelessness on this island are in Mokule'ia, the Wai'anae Coast, Sand Island, 'Ewa Beach and 'A'ala Park.

Three people were arrested in yesterday's sweep, two on outstanding warrants and another in connection with illegal camping. Six abandoned vehicles and several bulky trash items were removed from hau bush.

A grenade hanging from a tree at one campsite was later determined to be non-explosive.

Police also learned that fugitive Robert Joseph Gouveia Jr., 35, wanted for parole violations, had been at the park and fled before authorities arrived.

A Hawaiian Humane Society officer took in three dogs left behind by campers.

Sgt. Jay Kauwenaole, supervisor of the 'Ewa District Weed & Seed police detail, said the objective of yesterday's sweep was to make the park safe and clean for users, not to expel homeless people. "I thought it went well. There were no surprises," Kauwenaole said.

Within the homeless population at hau bush, the troublemakers are known to police, but in sweeps, there can be no exceptions. As HPD spokesman Capt. Frank Fujii said, "We understand the plight of some of the people staying here ... but we just can't pick on certain ones."

Reach Rod Ohira at 535-8181 or rohira@honoluluadvertiser.com.