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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, March 25, 2006

Repairs will 'bounce' 200 beach park dwellers

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

Starting Monday, Ala Moana Beach Park will be shut down nightly from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. to prepare for an extensive repair and maintenance project. The makeover will force homeless people who have been living in the park to find shelter elsewhere.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Homeless advocates say that an estimated 200 people live at Ala Moana Beach Park at any given time. Some of the homeless interviewed yesterday said they don't know where they'll go when the park closes.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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The canal bridges and retaining walls at Ala Moana Beach Park will be refurbished during the maintenance program. Yesterday's announcement caught the park's homeless residents off guard.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Ala Moana Beach Park will be closed nightly beginning Monday to prepare for a major repair and maintenance project, and advocates for the homeless say that will force nearly 200 people to find another place to live.

The city announced yesterday that the park will be closed for a month every day from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. On April 25, 26 and 27, the park will be closed all day for "some much needed maintenance," said parks director Lester Chang.

The night closing could become permanent, said city spokesman Bill Brennan.

Homeless advocates said the short notice will hurt those who live in the park and the agencies that help them.

Laura E. Thielen, executive director for the Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance, said that of the estimated 200 who live in the park at any given time, 30 are children.

"This caught us completely by surprise," Thielen said. "There's absolutely nowhere for them to go. Their reality is trying to find a space to live every night and this is just going to make it that much harder."

She speculated that many will begin moving into residential areas, shopping malls and businesses.

Late yesterday, Benjamin Kahalepo and Misty Martin were preparing a hamburger dinner for their group, which calls the park home. Kahalepo, 48, has been at the park for more than five years and Martin, 41, for about a year.

Both said that they had no idea where they would wind up once the park is closed Monday night.

"We gotta get out of the park, but we really don't know where we're going," Kahalepo said. "We have to ride around until we can find a place where we feel comfortable to lie our heads down to get some rest."

He said he and his group have lived in public areas from Diamond Head to Sand Island, but each time they move they have been asked to leave by the police. Although they don't want to pick up and leave again, Kahalepo said that his camp will be on the move come Monday.

"If they ask us to comply, we gotta comply," he said. "We're just gonna bounce and bounce and bounce."

Martin said she and the others have run "into unfortunate times" and didn't choose to be homeless. She said they will have to find somewhere to live, but were trying to figure that out yesterday.

"We're just trying to live, that's all," she said. "We have food, we have shelter and we have each other. They cannot take that away from us. We're going to lose, but they can't take that away from us."

Brennan said the park closure isn't aimed at the homeless. He said the plan is to make the park cleaner and safer.

Once the maintenance work is completed, city officials will decide whether to permanently keep the park closed at night, Brennan said. He said about 75 percent of the city's parks are not open at night.

"We'll look at it and say, 'Hey, was it better this way with the nightly closures or was it better to have it open all night?' " he said.

Michael Keale, an outreach worker with the Waikiki Health Center's Caravan Program for the Homeless, was busy yesterday explaining to the Ala Moana homeless what will happen beginning Monday night. The program provides food, mail and message services, as well as medical and hygiene assistance to the homeless.

"It's going to be hard," Keale said. "Some of them have issues that we have to follow up with as far as medications. Some of them have referrals for mental health problems so it makes our task harder to follow up with these people. I told them to let us know where you guys are gonna be and we'll come looking for you."

The closing hours will be modified from March 31 to April 2 when the Honolulu Centennial Family Festival is held at Magic Island. On those days, the park will be closed from 2 to 4 a.m., Chang said.

"Our goal is to improve Ala Moana park safety, maintenance and cleanliness. I want it to be safe and inviting for everyone," Chang said.

During the maintenance program, the city will clean comfort stations, paint the Ala Wai portals, canal bridges, retaining walls and comfort stations, and repair potholes and restripe the parking lots and beach road.

City crews also will do landscape maintenance, inspect trees, repair picnic tables and park benches, work on the lifeguard towers, and repair the park's irrigation system.

Reach Curtis Lum at culum@honoluluadvertiser.com.