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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 17, 2007

Displaced homeless go inland

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

 •  Homeless population on Oahu rises 28.2%

When the city started sweeping homeless enclaves off beach parks, many said they were just moving the problem around. They'll come back to the beaches, some warned. They'll move to other beaches.

Which, indeed, has been the case.

But something else happened, too. They moved inland. The shelters and emergency shelters filled up, some went back to the beach parks, eschewing the regulations of shelters, and part of the homeless population found their way into neighborhoods, into little parks and pockets far away from the shoreline but much more visible than under a bridge or overpass or in a dark downtown alley.

Stadium Park, lately being called Mo'ili'ili Community Park, is bordered by the fancy glass-paneled First Hawaiian Bank building on Isenberg and King streets, on the other side by a row of purple jacaranda trees in bloom, in the back by the old Bowl-O-Drome and in the front by busy Longs Drugs.

There is a large bathroom facility near the back of the park, by the little parking lot on Makahiki Way that is hidden from King Street. Attached to the restrooms is a shady pavilion, and it has become a daytime hangout and nighttime bunker for dozens of homeless people. Nearby are apartment buildings with the names Scenic Tower and Crystal Park.

These are not the struggling families of the Leeward Coast. There are no children among them, no tents, no dogs on rope leashes; only carts and plastic bags and cigarette butts.

In the heat of the afternoon sun, several solo operators take naps on the grass around the wandering walking path. One shirtless man sleeps surrounded by five filled shopping carts: three from Star, one from Longs, one of indeterminate origin. His back is an adobe red, as though he's slept under the sun for years.

There is a brightly colored playground near the King and Isenberg side of the park where parents and grandparents bring children to play on the slide or tromp on the bridge or just run in dizzy circles on the cushioned rubber mat. It's as though there's a force field around the kids' area. No homeless people wander in, no children wander out. A shiny-haired little boy on a plastic tricycle takes off on the cement walking path beyond the imaginary safety zone and all eyes watch and worry. Come back, little boy, you come back here. And he does. Turns right around as though someone had yelled at him, though no one said anything out loud.

It's not just the former stadium grounds that are becoming Their Space versus Our Space. Up the street at Mo'ili'ili Field, a shirtless bearded man with a huge belly commandeered the shaded scorer's box in the afternoon sun while a dozen other people with backpacks and duffel bags and shopping carts leaned around the restroom.

McCully resident Tony Chen takes his niece and nephew to the park every day. With its gracious trees, curving path and little details like the circle of chess tables, the park serves as a backyard for apartment dwellers and folks in houses where the yard is used for a clothes line and car port.

Chen was moved to write a letter to his community board about the growing homeless situation, but was told there was not much that could be done, so he wrote to the paper. He wonders if anyone else sees what's happening in the neighborhood, and if they do, what can be done about it besides just moving the situation someplace else.

Because that's already been done.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.