The headline certainly raised alarms: “Waianae homeless leaders say the state blocked a CNN story about their camp.”

That comes from a Dec. 22 Hawaii News Now story. Jobeth Devera reported that the homeless camp’s leader, Twinkle Borge, was hopeful that CNN would raise awareness of homelessness in Hawaii with a wide audience.

But the state Department of Land and Natural Resources objected to having a film crew provide national publicity to the camp near the Waianae Boat Harbor. HNN included this statement from DLNR explaining why:

Bringing attention to this area on a national level has the possibility of suggesting that the State is okay with the current human occupation on this property, and while we continue to be in discussions with various parties about this property and its future use, at the moment we are not interested in the possibility of people living there being inaccurately or inappropriately portrayed to a national television audience.

That, not surprisingly, upset the leader of the Waianae camp.

A screen shot from the Dec. 22 Hawaii News Now report on the Waianae homeless camp.

“Borge feels the censorship is part of an effort to force the camp to close,” reported Devera, who included this comment from Borge: “I was kind of angry when they told me they got denied. We have been here this long and all of a sudden it’s a problem and you want to take it from us? Shame on you.”

Devera closed her report by saying, “The state refused Hawaii News Now’s request for an interview on the status of the camp for this story. The film company that was denied a permit did not respond to our calls.”

So, did the state really censor a national report on homelessness in Hawaii?

As the late commentator Paul Harvey used to say, here’s “the rest of the story.”

‘United Shades Of America’

In fact, a CNN program chronicling the Waianae story in a segment of “United Shades of America,” is expected to air in April or May. That comes from producer Vanessa Sanchez, who Devera was kind enough to put me in touch with.

Devera said she found out only after her report that CNN was going ahead with its story. Despite the DLNR’s rejection of CNN’s one-day filming permit, the film crew ended up going to Waianae after all to conduct the interview with Borge.

“We understand that in any environment we go, we are guests, and we are just doing our due diligence,” Sanchez said of the permit application. “We made every attempt to do things correctly and get the correct permits to avoid any issue down the line.”

As Civil Beat reported in 2015, Twinkle Borge’s phone is often buzzing with people from the community seeking assistance.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Ultimately, though, Sanchez said the Waianae story was just too important to ignore.

“We decided to do the interview anyway, because homeless is obviously a problem on Oahu,” she said. “Our intention, as we told everyone, is not to make the state look bad or to discourage people from visiting Hawaii. Very much the opposite. We want them to learn about this problem. That’s the only way things will change.”

Sanchez made a point of telling me that the state did its best to accommodate CNN.

“I don’t want it to seem that the state or permit office gave us a hard time,” she said. “I want to make it very clear that they were very, very helpful in other situations and locations, and on short notice.”

But, Sanchez said, “It would not be right to go down there and not talk about homelessness.”

DLNR’s Position

Asked for comment, Dan Dennison, senior communications manager for DLNR, told me via email, “To be clear the request was from a production company working on a show for CNN.”

Here is the reason for DLNR’s denial, in full (parentheticals mine):

The area being utilized as an encampment next to the Waianae Small Boat Harbor is currently under the jurisdiction of the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources.

It is not an appropriate place for continued human habitation in that it is the only known area on Oahu, where there is an anchialine pool system (meaning near the sea) that consists of a pure strain of the Waianae genetic lineage for a certain opae’ula (small red shrimp) and only one of four locations on Oahu containing another anchialine pool shrimp that the state would like to protect.

We continue to ask that people not reside near or on top of sensitive anchialine pools such as those at Waianae. Additionally there are burials of iwi (ancestral bones) in the area, and we remain vigilant and sensitive to the living ancestors of these departed folks.

Bringing attention to this area on a national level has the possibility of suggesting that the State is okay with the current human occupation on this property, and while we continue to be in discussions with various parties about this property and its future use, at the moment we are not interested in the possibility of people living there being inaccurately or inappropriately portrayed to a national television audience.

Devera’s HNN report did note the concern about the shrimp.

Dennison, who has a background in television news, may have been worried that CNN planned to send a large crew to Waianae. The permit form Devera shows in her report lists 16 crew members total. Sanchez said CNN sent only three or four to do the interview.

Dennison might also have had reasonable concerns about how Waianae and the state might be depicted.

“United Shades of America” is self-billed as a show that follows “comedian and political provocateur W. Kamau Bell as he explores communities across America to understand the unique challenges they face.”

Previous episodes show Bell in hot spots like Puerto Rico and Standing Rock and exploring such touchy subjects as guns, gang violence, white privilege and Islam in America.

A Big Story

Sanchez, the producer, said the episode in question will actually focus on Native Hawaiian issues, including sovereignty. Her research accordingly led her to homelessness, and Waianae.

Of course, the Waianae camp has already been widely reported in local news, including in an award-winning series from Civil Beat called The Harbor.

Coverage outside Hawaii includes a Business Insider report from 2013 and one in The Guardian this summer. And it’s also on YouTube, including in this clip titled “A Homeless Anarchist Community Run By Women.”

Tents, carts and other tools along a path inside the Waianae Boat Harbor camp in November 2015.

Cory Lum/CIvil Beat

Sure, it might not be in the best interest of the Ige administration to have a story broadcast internationally about homelessness in Hawaii the same year the governor is in a tough re-election campaign.

And the CNN coverage also comes as there is heightened interest in safe zones (or puuhonua) — legal homeless encampments, an issue that divides experts in homelessness.

Scott Morishige, Ige’s coordinator on homelessness, for example, has said there is little data on how effective safe zones are in alleviating homelessness. But some lawmakers see promise in providing a place where the homeless feel welcome.

And Borge and her supporters are right to worry that the state might eventually shut their camp down.

My takeaway from all this: Stories like the Waianae homeless camp should continue to be told, and it makes sense to talk about safe zones.

Now, to once again channel Paul Harvey (after a long pause): “Good day!”

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