'We have to go somewhere'
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Out of sight, for the most part, but not gone.
Since being removed from Ala Moana Beach Park on March 27, more than half of the estimated 200-plus homeless people are spending evenings at Central Union Church and Kawaiaha'o Church.
Officials at both churches, however, are making it clear that the arrangements are temporary, raising concerns about where the homeless will go next.
Ronald Perron, 51, has spent the last several nights at a parish hall on the grounds of Central Union.
"The homeless are not going to go away," said Perron, who collects cans and bottles to earn some cash.
Asked where he and others might go when the churches stop housing them, Perron said: "We're going to overtake the bus stops. If we have to, we're going to sleep on the sidewalks — the sidewalks, the buses, abandoned buildings. We have to go somewhere."
Night closures at Ala Moana Beach Park are slated through April 27, and no decision has been made on whether night closure will become a permanent rule, city spokesman Bill Brennan said yesterday.
"We're looking at the impact of the night closure to see if it should be continued or not," he said.
Meanwhile, the city designated Sister Roberta Park — along Alapa'i Street, next to Honolulu Police Department headquarters — as an overnight site available for the homeless. But after the first few nights away from Ala Moana Beach Park, few, if any homeless individuals stayed there.
Brennan said city officials decided to close Ala Moana to overnight stays, in part, as a safety measure for the homeless.
Upon receiving reports that the state was removing homeless sites from below the H-1 viaduct in the Nimitz area and elsewhere, Brennan said, city officials were told that "criminal elements who prey on the homeless folks" were on their way toward Ala Moana Beach Park.
The city also wanted to shut down the park for 36 straight hours this month for sorely needed repairs and other general maintenance, Brennan said. That shutdown is scheduled for April 25-27.
City officials have repeatedly denied that the night closures are tied to this weekend's city-sponsored fair celebrating the centennial of the incorporation of Honolulu at Ala Moana Park's Magic Island.
The Rev. Dean Vestal, described as Central Union's "city missionary," said about 50 people have been staying overnight at the South Beretania Street meeting hall. The church, which opened its doors for overnight stays in late March, is promising to try to keep them open for 30 days, Vestal said.
Central Union is among the faith-based organizations that had been taking turns feeding the homeless at Ala Moana Beach Park. Since March 27, the feeding program has moved to the church grounds.
Jenny Brannock, 59, who was paralyzed seven years ago and gets around in a wheelchair, is among the grateful homeless staying at Central Union. "They're very nice here. Every night they watch over us," Brannock said. "I'm safe over here."
Church member Becky Woodland is a volunteer who recently forked about nearly $300 from her own pocket to buy 22 sleeping bags and pads that were distributed at the church hall. "I really like these people and I will do what I can to support them," Woodland said, tears welling in her eyes. "Most of them really, really, want to move forward."
In front of Honolulu Hale, a handful of members of the newly formed Ohana o Hawai'i continue a vigil seeking the reopening of Ala Moana Beach Park to homeless in need of an overnight site. Spokeswoman Leinati Ma-tautia said the group wants a meeting with Mayor Mufi Hannemann to discuss the park and ask for assistance with job training, affordable housing and educational opportunities geared to help the homeless.
Matautia said her family has been staying at Kawaiaha'o Church since last Friday. She maintains that homeless people should be allowed to stay at Magic Island, which is somewhat removed from the public eye after dark.
Waikiki resident Lani Smith, who was walking to the library, stopped to offer moral support to Matautia's group.
Smith, a security guard, said she had also been homeless for several days a few years back even though she was working at the time. "Not every homeless person is a lazy bum," she said. "Some are just down on their luck. Some people just don't make enough money to pay their rent."
At Kawaiaha'o, the original plan was to allow the homeless to stay at Likeke Hall for a week. Kahu Curtis Kekuna and others at the church have now agreed to extend that welcome by another week, according to Skip Tomiyama, who heads the church's kitchen ministry with Alice Panui.
About 70 have stayed overnight since last Friday, and about 90 people come for dinner and breakfast, Tomiyama said.
Last night, spaghetti was provided by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Kane'ohe. Tomorrow, folks from Harris Methodist Church are providing kalua pig and cabbage. "We're doing the poi and lomi," Tomiyama said. On Saturday, members of Temple Emanu-El and Nu'uanu neighbors St. Luke's Episcopal Church are teaming up for a roast chicken dinner.
Gov. Linda Lingle, the Housing, Community Development Corp. of Hawaii and lawmakers are moving on initiatives designed to pump some $20 million into the effort to renovate existing shelters and increase services.
The Rev. Bob Nakata, of the group Solidarity with the Homeless, said while most of that funding won't help in the immediate situation, one bill that would lead to the designation of "safe zones" for those without shelter could provide some relief.
The homeless and their advocates are targeting the Hannemann administration for a large share of their criticism. But city Community Services Director Debbie Morikawa, one-time director of the Institute for Human Services, said her office has not been sitting idle.
While the city administration believes the state has the resources to take the lead in solving homeless problems, Mori-kawa said, her agency is working with service providers.
Last night, Malo and Tooa Laufou, and sons United and States, sat at the steps to the basement of Kawaiaha'o Church enjoying spaghetti and corn. Malo Laufou said the family moved to Ala Moana Beach Park in January, after a price spike in their rented apartment in Waipahu.
"It's just so hard because we don't have any family here," he said. Families should be allowed to stay at the park, he said.
When asked if he had anything to tell the mayor, Laufou deferred to his 7-year-old son.
"Please help us to find a place to stay," United Laufou said.
Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at email@example.com.