State Department of Lands and Natural Resources officials say there is a long list of challenges and few solutions when it comes to homeless people who have made the state recreation area their home. Sand Island in O’ahu.
The shoreline on the west side of O’ahu’s only urban state park “is intended to be a place where residents and visitors can fish, swim and participate in recreational activities,” according to department officials.
The park is made up of two areas:
- One is a fairly neat park with licensed campsites, day-use sites, softball fields, and comfort stations.
- The other section of the park is undeveloped and heavily marginalized urban wilderness, where fishermen would go fishing and where several canoe clubs practise.
Department officials say the growing homeless population has reduced the desire for access, citing problems with “loose dogs, frequent fighting and other misconduct” associated with squatters.
“My heart goes out to these people in terms of the social impacts, the issues they’ve had in their lives. We have created a population of rights holders who prefer to camp along the shore or in the bushes, rather than being offered services and housing. It’s become a way of life,” said Curt Cottrell, administrator of the DLNR division of state parks.
The DLNR manages land for public use, but says it can’t do much. “Squatters could be cited for trespassing, and despite periodic clean-ups, there is no effective way to permanently move homeless people off public lands when they consistently refuse housing,” according to a department press release. .
Department officials say many of the people who inhabited 30 different campsites on Sand Island were from Kaka’ako, after the parks there were transferred to the city and county of Honolulu.
Cleanups at places like the Sand Island State Recreation Area and the Diamond Head State Monument have resulted in high costs. “State Parks has earmarked $200,000 this year to support Department of Transportation contract cleaning efforts. It’s nowhere near enough. It’s a shame this is happening to some of our most beautiful sites,” Cottrell said. .
Several times a year, DLNR and its partners organize homeless camp clean-ups. Prior to any cleanup, DLNR representatives are joined by service providers such as the Institute for Human Services, the Hawai’i Health and Harm Reduction Center, and the City and County of Honolulu’s TEAM Work Hawai’i program. . They walk through each camp and contact everyone they see to let them know that cleanup teams will be on their way. Notice and awareness is usually provided 1-2 weeks before any clean-up operation, according to the DLNR.
“Even if a person does not choose to accept shelter, the involvement of service providers allows them to connect with case management and medical services,” said Scott Morishige, the office’s homelessness coordinator. of the governor. “They also receive assistance in obtaining ID cards and other vital documents, as well as connections to benefits such as SNAP.”
Following the notice, to gather their belongings and move, a contractor sets up with trucks and workers to pick up whatever was left behind. If items are stored, then owners have 30 days to claim their belongings.
“The thing we find most challenging and glaring is the amount of waste generated that we have to keep cleaning up,” Cottrell said. “The money we spend on these cleanups could be used for park improvements and other needed projects. It’s a shame that this happens in some of our most beautiful places. Granted, Sand Island is an urban area, but with enough elbow grease and funding, it could be a gem of a park.
“While squatters camp without permission, being homeless per se is not illegal,” department officials acknowledge.
Pua Aiu, DLNR Homelessness Coordinator, said: “The periodic but regular operations at Sand Island and Diamond Head are not intended to be a solution to homelessness or a response from social services, but are in line with our overall mission to protect and manage state lands and resources.”
At Sand Island, DSP is exploring shoreline “activation” for all to enjoy, which he hopes will prevent camps from respawning almost immediately after a cleanup.
State Rep. Daniel Holt visited the area with Cottrell earlier this week and says it’s a bigger problem than he imagined. “To see this beautiful area ransacked and despised is very difficult. I feel for the people who struggle and have to live here in these tents, but we need short and long term solutions to activate the space.
Ideas include setting up and running a nearby BMX track, mass cleaning up coastal waters, partnering with canoe clubs and carrying out daily sweeps.
“Daily sweeps would be difficult,” Cottrell says, because it would require the daily commitment of staff, law enforcement and social workers. “Real solutions are so hard to come by, especially if people refuse housing or find campsites as safe places to do drugs. The adjacent BMX site, a great community asset, is regularly vandalized. They just had a locker robbed and 20 bikes stolen. Canoe clubs are expanding their business to Sand Island but are also struggling to cope with the 24/7 homeless population.
Morishige said there is no one answer to homelessness. “However, it is important to balance enforcement efforts with connections to services and an ongoing focus on navigation to housing.”
In addition to having a homeless coordinator on staff, DLNR has provided land for emergency shelters and housing, including two projects at Sand Island. The Hale Mauli Ola Emergency Shelter sits on DLNR land leased from the City and County of Honolulu, and the Kauhauiki Village housing lot was transferred to the C&C, which then leased it to a foundation. private.
“First we need to keep the area clean, then we need the community to help us consider what is the highest and best use of the park. What can the community do? They can file police reports when they see a crime, or are affected by crime, or are bitten by dogs on the loose. We encourage people to continue using the maintained portions of the park as we slowly expand use throughout the park,” Cottrell said.