Kakaako park closure reveals elaborate setups in homeless camps

Three parks in Kakaako are now closed indefinitely for major maintenance and improvements: Kakaako Waterfront, Gateway, and Kewalo Basin parks.

At Kakaako Waterfront Park alone, officials discovered more than half-a-million dollars in damage that they say was caused by illegal campers.

The Hawaii Community Development Authority (HCDA), which is in charge of the park, counted more than 30 broken light poles.

Officials say campers exposed the wiring, attached extension cords, and ran electricity through tents that had been illegally set up in the parks.

Photos of the aftermath show air conditioning and Christmas lights in one tent, and piles of abandoned bicycles being carried away in a dump truck.

There are also broken sprinklers, damaged water fountains, and broken sinks and toilets.

“There’s exposed electrical wiring. There’s damage throughout the park. There were fires recently occurring in the park,” said Scott Morishige, the governor’s coordinator on homelessness. “The park is closed to address the safety concerns and make sure that the staff can go in and assess the level of damage again to reopen the park as quickly as possible for the general public.”

Outreach workers say about 180 people had been living at the park.

Morishige says between Tuesday and Sunday — when the park was officially closed — 32 people were placed into shelter or housing, including all of the families in the park that had minor children. Four of the 32 were placed into permanent housing.

“The main focus is getting people connected to shelter, housing, and other resources that get them off of the streets,” Morishige said. “When outreach providers went into the park yesterday afternoon, they estimated there were about less than a hundred people remaining. Many of those individuals, even those who did not take the outreach providers up on shelter, were able to reconnect with family or find other places to stay.”

Anyone caught trespassing in any of the parks while they are closed will be cited.

The state is also aiming to clear out a major homeless encampment under the Nimitz Highway viaduct near Sand Island, where officials believe up to 150 people are living.

“Planning for the operation has started. We want to make sure though that that’s conducted as safely as possible, and it’s all about putting the right pieces in place right now, making sure we have coordination,” Morishige said. “Outreach providers continue to go out to that area, just as they are in this, to get a sense of what people’s needs are, and actually to get a better sense of an accurate count, and that’s all part of the planning process to make sure the operation can be conducted as safely and effective as possible.”

Morishige says the Nimitz viaduct operation will require coordination with the Department of Transportation, Department of Land and Natural Resources, the City and County of Honolulu, and non-profit human service providers.

Plans, including a timeline, are still being finalized, though Morishige says notices could be handed out to campers as early as mid-October.

“Outreach occurs on a really consistent basis,” he said. “My staff goes out three to four times a week to various areas of the island. We don’t just sit behind a desk. We actually get out in the community, making sure we are working hand-in-hand with providers.”

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