Ulehawa Park homeless to be ousted
By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Johnny Brannon
A run-down part of Ulehawa Beach Park on the Leeward Coast will soon receive a major overhaul that's largely meant to oust a growing number of homeless people camped there, Honolulu officials announced yesterday.
Outreach workers will offer a range of services to the beach dwellers before the park's Nani Kai section is temporarily closed in February, Mayor Mufi Hannemann said.
Other Leeward parks will receive a range of improvements worth $1.5 million, and dozens of community groups will get grants, totalling $1 million, to help compensate the area for hosting O'ahu's main garbage dump.
The city doled out a $2 million "community benefits package" for similar projects last year.
Hannemann is seeking state approval to expand the controversial dump near Kahe Point — known as the Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill — so it can remain open at least 15 years after its current operating permit expires in May.
The work at Ulehawa Beach Park will include repairs to restrooms, picnic tables, a parking lot and irrigation system, and "involves moving those who have tried to settle there," Hannemann said.
The park's 4-acre Nani Kai section is between Nanakuli and Ma'ili, near the intersection of Farrington Highway and Ho'okele Street.
The city launched a similar effort at Ma'ili Beach Park nine months ago, after the state opened a large new shelter in Wai'anae.
But hundreds of families and individuals still live in ragged tents and makeshift structures set up in other parks along the coast, including Ulehawa.
Gordon Au-Hoon, who was camped nearby for a family Christmas gathering, yesterday said he recognized the mayor's dilemma — trying to keep parks safe and clean without being unduly harsh on the poor.
"I understand where he's coming from," Au-Hoon said. "But we have a lot of people down here who have no place to go."
Au-Hoon used to live on the beach, but outreach workers invited him to the new shelter four months ago. He enrolled in a program that's helping him obtain a commercial driver's license and, hopefully, a job, he said.
"It's been a big help to me," Au Hoon said. "I recommend that a lot of people on the beach check it out. It's up to them to give it a try."
The beach was the only place available for the family to get together on Christmas, and police evicted them from Ma'ili Beach Park on Christmas Eve because they had no camping permit, he said.
His sister, Gaylene Au Hoon, came from Maui to be with the family. She grew up in Nanakuli and doesn't like what she sees now.
"It seems like there's more homeless people here just getting pushed around," she said. "I have family here, living on the beach, and a lot of people here need help."
City community services director Debbie Kim Morikawa said it's important for outreach workers to learn about the problems and obstacles that individual homeless people face, and to not make assumptions about them.
"We don't know what their personal circumstances are," she said.
But endless excuses won't solve the problems, either, she added.
"If people chose to not take the resources that we have, there's not a lot we can do," she said. "Our hope is that we'll convince people to accept help, and little by little, we'll address the problem."
City Councilman Todd Apo, who represents the area, said city officials must be compassionate but firm.
"There's not an over-pouring of sympathy for those who are choosing to live on the beaches when there are other options available to them," he said.
It's important that homeless people don't get too firmly rooted in one beach park and develop a sense of territory and ownership, he said.
"When they put up structures and really move in, it's just more difficult to deal with them later," Apo said.
He said grants and park improvements tied to the landfill can be beneficial for the community, but that closing the site would be a greater benefit.
"The Leeward Coast needs to have that kind of attention and benefits whether or not we have a landfill," he said. "The benefits package can't be an excuse for keeping the landfill and not dealing with" the city's garbage problems.
Hannemann has repeatedly said he hopes to develop alternatives to the landfill, but that it will still be needed for some of the island's waste.
Aimoku McClellan, a Ma'ili resident who headed an 11-member panel that advised Hannemann on the grants and park improvements, said he knows some people will see the benefits package as a "payoff" meant to win support for keeping the landfill.
"Some individuals may feel that way, but I don't," he said "If there were a better alternative, or a community willing to take the dump that we have, we would certainly welcome that. We don't consider this a payoff by any means.
"If it were a payoff, we would have wanted a whole lot more money."
Problems with homelessness, deteriorating parks and the landfill are taking a big toll on the Leeward Coast, McClellan said.
"Really, what's happening is our whole level of civility down here is slowly deteriorating," he said.
Providing shelter for homeless families has helped, but some who remain on the beach don't seem to want to change their circumstances, he said.
"Many of them just sit around and drink beer all day," McClellan said. "Not all of them, but enough of them. That's the reality."
Reach Johnny Brannon at email@example.com.
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Correction: Leeward Coast Community Benefits advisory committee member Neddie Waiamau-Nunuha's name was misspelled in a previous version of this story.