He looks about 70 years of age, but it’s hard to tell. The only clues are his long silvery hair and his weathered brown face.

Even in the tropical climate he wears long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, a jacket, shoes and a baseball hat — like a 19th-century plantation worker protecting himself from the elements.

On Friday I saw him in the convenience store on Kalakaua Avenue, the one just mauka of the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel. I was buying The New York Times and he was looking for food.

“Do-ree-toes!” the man said to no one, selecting a bag of chips and placing it on the counter. The clerk ignored him as the man fumbled for pocket change. “Two dollars please,” the clerk chirped to me.

On Saturday I saw the man raking the ground outside of Gold Coast Real Estate, pulling the dirt and leaves into a neat little pile. Is that where he got the change for the Doritos?

And, on Sunday, Mother’s Day 2010, with the park full of barbecues and volleyballs, kids in inflatable bounce houses and dogs, there he was again, carrying the rake over his shoulder, walking in no hurry to the shade of a banyan tree.

Has the homelessness situation improved since city officials in April cracked down on tents and shopping carts? The short answer is “yes.”

From the observations of regular park-goers, including me — I’ve been swimming there regularly for more than 20 years — there are no longer any tent colonies by the Waikiki Shell and Kapiolani Bandstand. There are no men and women screaming at each other in daylight. No one is doing lewd things next to the fence that encloses the Waikiki Aquarium.

But have the homeless disappeared from Kapiolani? Absolutely not. The unnamed man with the rake remains a fixture. So does the shirtless guy with a long while beard who plays chess. The fellow who never seems to budge from his picnic table stuffed with belongings. The couple in the lean-to that talks and sleeps and stares guardedly at passersby.

Brad Yamamoto and Kirk Boswell, a couple that has been coming to Kapiolani’s Queen’s Beach for the past five years, says they’ve noticed a drop in the homeless population over the past month. That coincides with Honolulu police imposing the new rules. (Police didn’t respond to repeated requests for enforcement data.)

“We started coming to Kapiolani more when Mufi first closed Ala Moana,” says Boswell, referring to the nighttime closure of Ala Moana Beach Park ordered by Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann in 2006.

Boswell and Yamamoto say the Ala Moana homeless population has increased as the Kapiolani population has decreased. Walking their five Italian greyhounds at 1 a.m. every night, Yamamoto sees three or four people sleeping in business entrances along Kapiolani Boulevard near Ala Moana Center.

“They’re getting off the beaches and moving into the residential areas,” he said. “They go to the bathroom behind the Dumpsters. My dogs know.”

Yamamoto and Boswell describe the homeless people at Kapiolani as mostly minding their own business. Boswell, from the East Coast, and Yamamoto, who spent 25 years on the West Coast, are used to aggressive panhandling.

“It’s because Hawaii is so tolerant,” ays Yamamoto. He pauses. “Sometimes we see the cops harass the homeless. There’s this older Filipino guy who’s harmless, but the cops keep giving him tickets. How’s he going to pay for those tickets? He carries a rake.”

Old Filipino guy with a rake?

“We call him ‘Uncle,'” says Yamamoto. “Good luck communicating with him.”

I thank them and go in search of Uncle. Seeing a fully clothed man lying on a mat near the Paniolo Beachside Grill, I ask him if I can snap his picture. He appears alarmed, raising one hand as if to block paparazzi. I click my iPhone and move on, feeling like a jerk.

Passing near the restrooms I say hello to another man — “Merry Christmas,” he says back — clothed like so many other homeless, disheveled and dirty, face hardened by the sun. Another man, the one camped out at the picnic table on the Diamond Head side of the grill, declines my interview request. A third man, shirtless with lots of tattoos, smiles.

A long line is forming at a picnic table near Kalakaua, and dozens of men — I have seen no homeless women today — line up for the hot rice, beef, bread and juice being dispensed by a church group.

“Who are you? Are you from The Honolulu Advertiser?” one of the homeless men says to me as I approach. “I am the protector of these people, and I will defend them. What do you want?”

I start to panic, but the Tattooed Man intervenes, saying I mean no harm.

“Call me the Fellow From The Park,” says the man who had described himself as the “protector” of the park people. “This is God’s country. This is tight-knit family here. It’s pono.”

The food line grows and a tall, muscular man with blond hair and piercing eyes corners me to talk about God.

“This is a spiritual place,” says the man, who identifies himself as Jesse. “Queen Kapiolani knew that. Kapiolani means ‘place of heaven.’ The holy spirit is here.”

Kapiolani literally means arch of heaven, or rainbow, which to Hawaiians signified the presence of royalty.

Jesse’s friend, a wiry man with long hair clinging to the back of a bald head, darts in and out of our conversation. He asks me to call him the Cat Man and he says he has lived in the park “on and off” for 15 years.

Where do the homeless go at night when the park is closed?

“In the bushes,” says the Cat Man, gesturing over his shoulder. “Behind the Dumpsters.”

“I live in Kaimuki,” says Jesse. “I don’t hang around here. I only come for the food. Just like all them dirty birds in the park. If they didn’t feed us we wouldn’t be here. Neither would the birds.”

The food is served by the Full Gospel Church of Oahu. Assistant Pastor Jihyun Kim, wearing plastic gloves and handing out plates and cups, says her Korean congregation has been coming to Kapiolani Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons for nearly two years.

“We see between 120 and 140 people each time, more than when we started,” Kim says. “We raise about $800 a month and buy from the Foodbank. We don’t ask for anything. This is our church’s work.”

The homeless are required to sign their name to a list before they eat so that the church can show the names to Hawaii Foodbank.

I look around and see all of the homeless in the park — except for Uncle. But, after I leave the church table to head for my car, I see him once again. He is asleep in the shade of a tree, his shoes kicked off, his rake part of his parcels. There’s no shopping cart, no tent, just a couple acres of ocean-front property with drinking fountains, showers, bathrooms, trashcans and shelter.

I take a picture and leave quietly. I’ll see him tomorrow.

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