Denby Fawcett’s severe call to action, Give Us Back Our Parks, generated several well-reasoned responses. We share with Fawcett a sense of urgency — the reality of pervasive homelessness needs effective action.

What we wish to add to previous critiques of Fawcett’s essay is context. Understanding the historic, bureaucratic, fiscal, political and other contexts of houselessness in Kakaako is critical to understanding the problem we must face creatively and collectively.

The specific historical context of the unsheltered in Kakaako has been stunningly ignored.

Over a century before the area was branded “Kakaako Makai,” the productive fisheries of Kukuluaeo and Kaakaukukui were filled in with ash from waste incinerators, and then became a large native Hawaiians settlement, derisively called “Squattersville.” The area served as a refuge for Hawaiians and locals priced out of other areas, until it was forcibly cleared by the city in the 1920s.

Before the Oct. 8 sweep of Kakaako Waterfront Park. The region has a long history of evictions.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

The 1920s eviction matches up with today’s sweeps, forming a pattern that belies Fawcett’s conclusion that “Now, it’s time for the state government to act.” Rather, now it is time to realize we are merely witnessing the latest part of a century of failed government action.

Time and again the government has tried to exploit the area for economic gain over the objections of those who assert residence there. The repetition would be comedic if it wasn’t interwoven with such deep cruelty.

Fawcett also avoids known disparities in public-land management with her suggestion we should rage against those “… who seem to believe they have a special right to commandeer public land.”

Across our coasts unregulated wedding photographers, yoga sessions and surf tours proliferate. Branches of the military lease thousands of acres for $1 per year. Water agreements for massive volumes from public land charge rates that have barely risen in decades.

In this light, the homeless’ “special right” is only wrong because it is unattended by political influence.

HCDA’s Misguided Outrage

Fawcett’s article described damage to the Waterfront Park that similarly obscured the government fiscal context.

Had that been provided, readers could more fully appreciate the irony involved when the Hawaii Community Development Authority points fingers. Since HCDA’s establishment to “address a lack of suitable affordable housing,” they have spent tens of millions of public dollars in Kakaako.

These efforts have resulted in some affordable units, but more so a proliferation of high-end luxury condos and a pervasive wafting smell of sewage. We are now asked by HCDA to be outraged at people who caused damage to electrical wiring and water lines as they sought to meet basic needs.

The specific historical context of the unsheltered in Kakaako has been stunningly ignored.

Finally, there is a political context that Fawcett invokes but does not examine. She pleads to give “us” “our” parks. But Kakaako’s houseless include local families and others with strong ties to Hawaii.

There is no bright line between recreational user and “hardcore homeless camper.” Some Panics surfers have gone through periods of homelessness due to the regular things that happen to regular people.

A parent dies, and the bank forecloses on a home that is home to several generations. One or more people in a household lose a job. Hospital bills come due after a wife’s death from cancer.

Moreover, referring to the housed as “law abiding citizens” fails to recall that for at least Hawaiians and Micronesians (who comprise some of the houseless), U.S. citizenship and state control were impositions by the United States for military and economic ends. The U.S. went to Micronesia and that brought them to Hawaii. Hawaii did not move to the U.S. — the U.S. came to Hawaii.

Kakaako skyline Honolulu city view. view looking up Diamond Head on King Street.

Besides many homeless people, Kakaako is also home to more and more luxury high rises.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Bringing in these contexts highlight some of the absurdities and ironies in coverage of the houseless and current government actions. We must also together examine the much larger national contexts that have lead to pervasive homelessness across the U.S. — including decades of dismantling of the social safety net, post-industrial economic dislocation and failed federal housing policies.

We need a conversation where we recognize that an economy which can readily produce $1 million condos but can not produce attainable housing is part of the problem. We need to look at all these factors, because they all lead to people living in parks, and we need to immediately see how many factors are outside county or state control.

What we can control is how we define the problem and where we spend limited local resources. The move to create a new unit in the Sheriff’s Division dedicated solely to enforcing a new criminal trespass law on state land seems, in these contexts, doomed to failure.

Defining a complex problem as only having one cause (the houseless) and therefore one solution (their forced removal) will not identify the collective actions needed to help all people live in basic safety and dignity.

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