Mayor seeks faster solution
Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann yesterday said he doesn't want to wait until December to begin cleaning up Wai'anae Coast parks but hopes to work with the state to help the homeless people who will be displaced.
He was reacting to Gov. Linda Lingle's statement this week that she hopes the city will postpone park improvements until the state gets further along in finding a solution for how to house homeless people in the area.
Hannemann faced some criticism from homeless advocates for closing Ala Moana Beach Park at night — displacing about 200 homeless — which the state responded to by opening a shelter in Kaka'ako.
"I want to be very sensitive to the homeless community that obviously uses many of our beach parks in that area," Hannemann said, and that's why the city plans to begin the parks cleanup in August with Wai'anae District Park, where there are no homeless campers.
Hannemann proposed going forward with more cleanup at nearby city beach parks in Ma'ili, Nanakuli and Kea'au — where there are people living in tents — as early as September. He's willing to compromise on that timetable but doesn't want to wait too long.
He said he keeps hearing from Wai'anae residents that they have gone too long without feeling comfortable taking their families to the beach parks in their community. He said the work would be done in stages, not at all parks at once, and it has not been decided whether the parks would be closed at night permanently such as Ala Moana.
"Some of them are saying that it's a crying shame that they can't go anywhere; they don't feel safe anywhere along the Wai'anae Coast," he said. "They really would like it if we could have portions of it available."
Lingle has responded to the mayor's offer for discussion and has set up a meeting with him for July 10, said Russell Pang, spokesman for the governor.
Her staff also met with the military this week to show officials the operations at the Kaka'ako shelter and will visit Kalaeloa next week to look at possible locations there, Pang said.
"Adm.( William J.) Fallon had called the governor and said there are some potential areas out there that might be suitable for emergency homeless shelters," he said.
Forming partnerships with the private and public sectors is the only way to solve the problem, Pang said.
"The governor has said all along it's a statewide problem, and we need the help of everybody, the city, the community, the private sector to the homeless themselves," he said.
Georgette "Jo" Jordan, the parks and recreation chairman for the Wai'anae Coast Neighborhood Board, said the mayor and the governor must work together or there will be more suffering in Wai'anae.
"Our government has a lot to do with the situation we're in now, and they have the avenue to guide us in a better direction," Jordan said. "I personally don't think they're guiding us in the correct direction."
Bob Nakata, an advocate for the homeless, said it was unfortunate that the mayor couldn't hold off for the time being.
Wai'anae is facing the worst homelessness problem in the Islands, and cooperation between the two governments would be helpful, Nakata said.
So the mayor's desire to still work with the state on the issue could mean a quicker solution to the issue, he said.
Nakata said he had opposed the mayor's decision to remove the homeless from Ala Moana, but he acknowledged that action was the catalyst for a state temporary shelter for the homeless in Kaka'ako.
"Maybe he can play more than just a catalyzing role here," he said, adding that the mayor has contributed to the solution before. When people were considering moving the homeless to Sand Island, the mayor said he would consider initiating bus service there so the homeless could get to work.
Hannemann said the city's role is to work on the parks while the state takes the lead on the social issue of homelessness.
He said he hopes the park work will include painting, repairs and landscaping.
"We really believe we can't wait until the election season is over in December," Hannemann said. "We'll find a way in which we can do this with the state because obviously it's going to take all of us working together."