City begins homeless sweeps in Kakaako Makai with eye on long-term solutions

Some sidewalks in Kakaako Makai are open as officials began the first phase of a plan to clear out a massive homeless encampment Tuesday.

By the time workers showed up at 11 a.m., most of the people who were camped along Ohe and Cooke streets had already left, but some of their belongings remained and had to be cleaned up.

This is the first time in nearly a year that the city was able to enforce its sidewalk nuisance and stored property ordinances (ROH Chapter 29, Articles 16 and 19) in the area.

Joseph San Nicolas was one of those people, but today he said goodbye. “I look at it as a good step towards getting better,” he said. “I have my own personal reasons to why I’m in this circumstance right now, but yeah, for a lot of people, I think it will be a great step.”

Crews spent the afternoon cleaning up one part of Kakaako while outreach groups were also on hand to help homeless who wanted to go into shelters.

“On Thursday, we were able to move 13 to 14 people in those, including family and small children,” said Jun Yang, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing. “Today, we are going to have some transportation over to shelter provided this morning and later on this evening again.”

The plan is to slowly move people out of the area, block by block. In the past, people have left and then just come right back.

So why will this sweep be any different from others?

“One thing that is important to understand is that this is the first time we will be coming back to the area to continue enforcement since November of 2014,” said Ross Sasamura, director of the city Department of Facility Maintenance.

While one of the goals is to clean up the area, the other goal is to help those living there get off the streets.

The state says 56 homeless campers have transitioned from Kakaako to shelters around Oahu since Aug. 7, including 10 families (or 19 percent of the 293 individuals surveyed in early August). They are currently receiving services to help them to eventually transition to permanent, supportive housing.

Nicolas, however, says not everyone wants to leave. “I don’t think a lot of these people want help from what I have gathered. From observing here, it’s that some people just like what they are doing. They don’t want to do anything, it seems,” he said.

Connie Mitchell, Institute for Human Services executive director, says she’s seen this happen before.

“I think there are people that live there and feel that many of their needs have been met since they have been there, so they don’t really want to do something different,” she said.

Now it’s a matter of time to see if this will work. For the homeless, it’s getting off the streets. For others, it’s cleaning up Kakaako.

For Nicolas, it’s a fresh start. “I think with solutions that these people are trying to provide if that continues on I think it will eventually go away,” he said.

The city will expand the sweeps in a phased approach in subsequent weeks to the other streets of Kakaako Makai, with specific locations and timing announced later.

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