Honolulu to start cracking down on tent encampments in parks
By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer
Police will start issuing citations Monday to people with unauthorized tents and shopping carts in city parks, and yesterday several homeless people said they were already complying with the bans.
But some have erected large beach umbrellas instead — an indication that the push-and-pull between the city, which has tried to open up public areas for everyone, and a number of homeless who sleep and sometimes set up camp in city parks — won't end soon.
The city said yesterday that police have been warning homeless people about the new laws, and handing out information on homeless shelters.
"All parks will be equally subject to the new laws, and HPD (the Honolulu Police Department) will enforce accordingly," said city spokesman Bill Brennan, in response to questions about whether enforcement will be targeted in certain areas.
Waikīkī, the state's No. 1 tourism destination, has dominated concerns recently among residents and merchants about homeless people in parks. Yesterday, at least 20 homeless people were hanging out in Kapi'olani Park with their belongings, but few had tents erected.
Some homeless have opted for large beach umbrellas, and at Kapi'olani there were about four up in one area. Mindy Martin, 46, was one of those with an umbrella, which was lying on the ground for shade and secured to her belongings so it didn't blow away.
She stopped using her tent days ago, she said.
Martin works at night and sleeps in the park during the day.
She said she doesn't like the ban on tents, but doesn't want to risk a citation.
"It's definitely an attempt to get rid of us," Martin said.
She added, "We'll comply" with the ban.
Lee Paulo, a security guard who sleeps in the park during the day, said many homeless have taken down their tents in anticipation of the new tent ban. But Paulo said that doesn't mean the homeless are gone.
"We're just going along with whatever," Paulo said.
The mayor signed the two park bills into law March 31, but gave people a grace period before enforcement starts so that social service providers and the police could inform the homeless about the measures.
One of the laws bans "tents with walls" in city parks unless authorized by camping permits or other park permits. Temporary canopies commonly used in parks for picnics are still allowed — as are beach umbrellas. A separate law bans shopping carts in parks.
Violators may be subject to fines of up to $500.
The laws are arguably the toughest passed as part of a years-long push to address illegal camping. Yesterday, social workers continued to try to get the word out to homeless in parks about the new laws and a few park dwellers did decide to get into shelters or on waiting lists.
'WAITING TO SEE'
Darlene Hein, director of community services at Waikiki Heath Center, said there were no empty beds yesterday for single men at the state's Next Step shelter in Kaka'ako. But the Institute for Human Services does have space for 85 men at its Sumner Street shelter.
At the IHS shelter on Ka'aahi Street in Kalihi, there is enough space for about 20 women and three to five families, depending on their sizes.
Hein said some homeless in the park "haven't quite decided how they want to respond" to the new tent ban. "We're seeing a few people moving out," she said. "It's kind of the waiting to see how it's going."
Honolulu, like many cities, has been working for years to tackle illegal camping in city parks and has encountered a long list of hurdles.
Homeless in Kapi'olani Park, for example, were able to skirt a revised "illegal camping" ordinance — which went into effect in August 2008 to replace one struck down because it was too vague — by sitting up at night or relying on friends to wake them up if police patrolled.
The new ordinance tailors the definition of illegal camping to outlaw using a city park as a "temporary or permanent dwelling place" at night. The city then closed Kapi'olani at night, but residents say that still didn't work because the homeless were erecting tents during the day.