Police step up enforcement to clear out Kapi'olani Park
• Photo gallery: Kapi'olani Park 24-hour closure
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
On the eve of Sunday's Honolulu Marathon and an upcoming Christmas vacation by President Obama, police have begun writing citations and taking other steps to discourage a growing homeless encampment that sits next to the marathon's Waikíkí finish line.
The crackdown is the city's latest attempt to address a stubborn problem that has defied solution, and drawn complaints from public officials and Waikíkí residents and tourists about homeless in the epicenter of Hawai'i's struggling tourism industry.
It comes just a week after an estimated 40 homeless people were required to move from a spot near the Waikiki Aquarium and Mayor Mufi Hannemann said that what some had thought was a loophole in the city's "illegal camping" law wasn't a loophole after all.
The number of homeless in Kapi'olani Park peaked in summer 2008 with more than 150 sleeping there at night. The size of encampments has ebbed and flowed since but has been on the rise of late.
Art Richardson, a Waikíkí resident, went on a "Neighborhood Walk" with officers from the Waikíkí substation early this year and saw half a dozen tents in the Queen's Beach end of Kapi'olani Park, which sits on the 'ewa side of the Waikiki Aquarium, fronting the ocean.
But this week the number of tents had multiplied to about two dozen, Richardson said, along with several dozen homeless campers.
"It's growing," Richardson said. "It's gotten a lot worse lately."
And that comes even though shelters have said they have space for single men and women.
ON THE MOVE
Yesterday, many of the homeless people said they moved to the Queen's Beach section of the park in the past several days after Hannemann announced a crackdown on a 6-foot-wide strip of grass that runs along the street-side of Queen's Beach.
Homeless people moved onto the strip under the belief that it was state land and therefore offered them a loophole against the ban on camping in city parks.
But Hannemann said on Dec. 2 that the strip was part of Kapi'olani Park, where overnight camping is prohibited.
"We are committed to keeping Kapi'olani Park clean and safe for everyone," Hannemann said in his announcement. "The Malama o Waikiki renovation program we announced in March has been very successful in restoring heavily used park areas and beachside pavilions, and we are continuing these efforts."
Yesterday, the strip of grass was surrounded by yellow tape and fliers announcing, "temporarily closed for park maintenance."
The fliers state that "all personal property, household goods, animals, etc., must be removed by 11 a.m. Wednesday, December 2, 2009. Any property remaining in the area may be impounded. Perishable property and trash will be discarded."
Misty Martin, 46, had been staying on the strip of grass until she moved farther toward Queen's Beach following Hannemann's announcement.
Then in the early hours of Monday, Tuesday and yesterday, Martin and others said, Honolulu police officers from the Waikíkí substation in standard uniforms and tactical gear began sweeping the encampment and citing people like Martin.
Yesterday, Martin showed a citation she received hours earlier for illegal camping, along with a summons for a court date on Jan. 11.
Martin and others insisted that they weren't violating park ordinances against camping because her tent was packed up and she was merely sitting in a beach chair on the sidewalk when the officers arrived in patrol cars and aboard all-terrain vehicles.
"We know it's because of the marathon," Martin said. "We're definitely being targeted."
Russell Akina, 48, said his two tents were neatly stowed in a baby stroller he uses for his belongings and was walking on the sidewalk along Kaläkaua Avenue after using a Kapi'olani Park restroom. As he walked along the sidewalk, Akina said a Honolulu police officer issued him a citation at 2:45 a.m. yesterday.
The handwriting on Akina's citation was difficult to read, but Akina said the officer told him that he was cited for "planning to sleep in the park."
"I told him, 'How could I be intending to sleep when my tent wasn't even up?' " Akina said. "He said, 'Tell it to the judge.' "
ENFORCING THE BAN
Jamie Dryburgh, a tourist from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, has visited Waikíkí four times and said the number of homeless campers at Queen's Beach is tarnishing his latest vacation.
He lay on a beach towel near several homeless tents yesterday and nodded his head toward where he had witnessed an argument between a homeless man and a local resident "over nonsense."
"It has definitely put me off," Dryburgh said. "It's not pleasant. From the perspective of police, it looks like a no-win situation."
But Waikíkí resident Bruce Grant, walking along the shoreline in front of the encampment, said, "It doesn't bother me at all. Everybody needs a place to live."
Police spokeswoman Michelle Yu acknowledged yesterday that officers from the Waikíkí substation have been enforcing the ban on camping in Kapi'olani Park in response to Hannemann's announcement.
But Yu said she had no information on what the citations were issued for and had no knowledge of allegations by homeless people that officers were seizing tents and other personal items.
An Air Force and Navy veteran who became homeless in August said officers took his tent and others early yesterday after he left the park so he wouldn't be violating the camping ban.
"I didn't expect to be out here this long, to be honest," said the man, who would not give his name because he is trying to find a job and did not want to be stigmatized. "But how they're treating us is ridiculous. I've got to get out of this situation."
B.J. Kam and several other homeless people said they pack up their belongings every night and stow them beneath banyan trees to avoid camping citations. They then stand on Waikíkí sidewalks or walk along Kaläkaua Avenue from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. to comply with the camping ban.
"At midnight I get out of the park and sit on the curb or just listen to the radio," Kam said. "I don't want to get any tickets."
Like others, Marc Slade, 38, believes the police crackdown is the result of the convergence of Obama's visit from Dec. 23 through Jan. 2 and Sunday's Honolulu Marathon, which will crowd the streets of Waikíkí with thousands of runners, spectators and volunteers and end up at the finish line about 50 yards from where he sleeps.
Yesterday, Slade got up from a mat he was laying on at Queen's Beach and flipped open an oversized King James version of the Bible to find Ezekiel 16:49 and its reference to failing to "strengthen the hand of the poor and the needy."
"Instead of chasing us from the bushes to the bus stops, from beach to beach," Slade said, "they should be trying to help us."
It was unclear how effective the citations were going to be in clearing the homeless from the park.
One homeless man at Queen's Beach said he has received citations from police for camping in Kapi'olani Park, but never showed up for his court appearances — despite the possibility of arrest warrants for failing to appear in court.
"I guess I'll just wait until the cops stop me for something and find out I have warrants," said the man, who would not give his name.