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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 20, 2006

Ala Moana park closure extended

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

Nighttime closures of Ala Moana Beach Park, which ousted about 200 homeless people when initiated last month, will be extended into mid- to late June.

The administration of Mayor Mufi Hannemann announced the move yesterday, citing "favorable comments" from the public. The closure may ultimately be permanent, officials said.

Meanwhile, leaders at Central Union Church and at Kawaiaha'o Church, where dozens of the displaced homeless are now eating dinner and staying overnight, said they likely will not offer those accommodations beyond the end of May.

City Parks Director Lester Chang initially ordered the park closed from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. nightly beginning March 27, saying city workers had to prepare for a three-day, around-the-clock shutdown for major maintenance work scheduled to begin Tuesday.

While the extended night closures are under way, city officials will consider making the night closings permanent.

"We've had a lot of positive feedback about the nightly closures," Chang said, in a news release. "Many people are commenting that the park feels cleaner and safer and we should keep up this practice. Closing it for another 60 days will allow us to determine whether we should make those nightly closures permanent."

City spokesman Bill Brennan said "dozens and dozens" of calls have come into Honolulu Hale endorsing the decision to shut down Ala Moana Beach Park at night. Meanwhile, he said, "there has not been a significant number of calls expressing the opposing view."

The city continues to allow homeless campers to stay in Sister Roberta Derby Park, next to the Honolulu Police Department's Alapa'i Street headquarters. But few have taken advantage of the offer. Homeless people and advocates note that restroom facilities are far from the camping area and some individuals feel uncomfortable on the lawn that is below police office lanai.

CHURCH OFFICIALS MEET

Officials at both Central Union and Kawaiaha'o, which have been serving meals to more than 100 individuals and providing sleeping space for more than 50 each night since the closure, met with other service providers at Kawaiaha'o yesterday to discuss what to do next.

The Rev. Dean Vestal, city missionary for Central Union, described the city's decision as troubling. He also said the church cannot continue providing the services to those who've been displaced.

"We can't go on like we're doing," Vestal said. "We'd love to, but we cannot."

The fortitude of the volunteer staff and the donations that have been coming from the restaurant and food industries, as well as fellow churches and even individuals, has been strong, he said. "But we're going to wear out, I'm afraid," Vestal said.

SERVICES END SOON

Central Union officials have said April 30 will be the last day it will house people.

Kahu Curtis Kekuna, pastor at Kawaiaha'o, said his church also will likely need to stop its services at the end of the month.

Kawaiaha'o is contending with an additional challenge in that it is scheduled to undergo "a renovation of epic proportions" that has been in the works for 10 years, Kekuna said. That plan requires closure of Likeke Hall, where the homeless individuals are now fed and housed. Initially intending to house the homeless for a week, the church has now extended services into a fourth week.

The renovation has been delayed somewhat as a result of the effort to provide temporary food and shelter, Kekuna said. "But we see this as important to do, so that's why we're doing it."

Those attending yesterday's meeting at Kawaiaha'o said they intend to organize a major call out for assistance for the homeless seeking additional help from the state and city governments as well as other churches and service providers.

HOMELESS PROTEST MOVE

Some took exception to the favorable response cited by city officials, noting that it seems to imply that a large segment of the community has little sympathy for the homeless who want Ala Moana reopened at night.

Darlene Hein, who heads the Waikiki Health Center's Care-A-Van Program, said when the nightly closures began support for the homeless was expressed with a large protest at City Hall. Several people were arrested. Since then, she said, homeless people have been holding signs in front of Honolulu Hale urging the city to help them.

"We have not been calling City Hall every day, but we didn't know we needed to," Hein said.

Said Vestal: "We were expecting the park to be reopened."

Several of the homeless waiting for meals to be served at Kawaiaha'o yesterday were unhappy with the city's decision.

"I don't think it's right of them to do that," said Renown Sylvester, 47, who has lived at Ala Moana Beach Park "off and on" for 12 years. "There are so many houseless people where are we supposed to go? I mean, I can go back to (the beach) at Wai'anae but look how many people already there."

Shane Palakiko, 32 and homeless since 2003, also wants the park reopened at night. Many of those who stayed at Ala Moana Beach Park, he said, cleared the park at daylight and have helped caretakers clean it.

Parkgoers will be allowed on the beach at Ala Moana during daylight hours when the three-day cleanup takes place, but they will need to walk in as the park will be closed to vehicular traffic.

"We strongly recommend people make alternate plans for those three days," Parks Director Chang said.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com.


Correction: Central Union Church and Kawaiaha'o Church have said they will likely not offer accommodations to the homeless beyond the end of this month. The time frame was incorrect in a previous version of this story.