UPDATED 5:25 p.m. 3/15/11
As scores of homeless were evicted from the Kakaako area Tuesday, state officials acknowledged that what they were doing is a short-term solution to a long-term problem.
Hawaii Homeless Coordinator Marc Alexander told Civil Beat the effort is a push toward personal responsibility. Homeless have been driven from Ala Moana and Kapiolani parks in years past. In the past few months, makeshift tents and tarps strung up on fences and poles had sprung up and were visible from Ala Moana Boulevard, the tourist route to Waikiki, and planted near the University of Hawaii medical school.
“I think people do have to be encouraged and pushed to take responsibility,” Alexander said while canvasing Kakaako. “There are services available. There is room in our shelters. There are people ready to help people help themselves. And some of the homeless need to be encouraged to take those services seriously.”
Homeless in the neighborhood were given a few weeks notice before being told to move, Alexander said. Volunteer crews from Kamehameha Schools and shelters teamed up with the Hawaii Community Development Authority to aid in the work – and there was plenty of it, with dozens of shelters still visible.
Update Volunteers told Civil Beat the work could last through Wednesday. But, a drive-through of the area around 4 o’clock Tuesday showed all tents and shelters had been removed with very few traces of the once large homeless community left. A few sparse trash piles remained, and the occasional rusty fan whirling from an on-shore breeze.
Earlier Tuesday, several homeless strolled past police blockades and tractors, exchanging chatter about how fast the crews were moving. One man close to the ocean guessed he would have the better part of the day before he would be told to move.
The big question for many of those being evicted: Where do we go?
One man, who declined to give his name, detailed his strategy to Civil Beat: “Us? Nowhere. As soon as they’re pau, we’re coming right back,” the man, 48, said. “Where we going? You see them give us a solution? They only gave us a couple weeks notice, that’s all.”
The man said he was unhappy with the government’s decision. He blamed newcomers to the area – saying they’re dirty and don’t clean up after themselves – for the recent attention to Kakaako.
Alexander said shelters are open and prepared for a possible influx of new residents. More importantly, he emphasized the need to address the homeless problem for the future, not just the present.
“What is going to solve this in the long term?” Alexander rhetorically asked. “Long term, we need more affordable housing, 30 percent of median income and below. We need more permanant housing available with services to help people truly help themselves. You know, with work force development, parenting skills, the whole nine yards. We need better mental health treatment for people and drug addiction programs and co-occurring programs that help to treat people with multiple problems. These are some of the longer term solutions that we need to have in place. We can do some short-term things to provide some relief, but if we don’t do these long term things, we’re going to be back here again and again, which is what’s been happening.”
Utu Langi, 44, a social worker with the nonprofit H-5, which manages the Next Step shelters, was on hand Tuesday, offering water and snacks to volunteers. He said there are shelters available for those willing to use them, but that Next Step was full through next week.
“They asked us if we could help, try and get people into the shelters and stuff,” Langi said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have sufficient room…because they knew this cleanup effort was coming up, they filled up all the rooms we have there. But hopefully next week, we’ll have some space for whoever wants to come in.”
Asked where the homeless could go in the meantime, if not Next Step, he said: “I don’t know. I hope they go and find out – because there’s IHS down the road, as an emergency and transitional shelter, and there are some other shelters, too. Hopefully, they’ll find a place to go into. Because, for them to go from here to some other place, it’s going to be hard for us to find out where they go.”
Alexander said the homeless he had spoken with weren’t enthusiastic about moving, but that there hadn’t been any confrontations as of 10 a.m. Tuesday morning.
“I’ve had a few conversations with some of the homeless,” Alexander told Civil Beat. “And I have to say, nothing really bad. I mean they expressed, honestly, ‘I’m not happy about having to move. I mean if I told you that I’m happy about having to move, I’d be lying.’ So a number of them have said they moved and some are going to shelters and some aren’t.”
Alexander said one homeless man said he wouldn’t go to a shelter because he couldn’t afford one. Alexander told him that at Next Step, no payment was required for the first three months.
“So there’s still myths that are out there,” Alexander said. “Some of the shelters ask for something, but not Next Step and that’s the one in this area.”
It appeared Alexander didn’t know that Next Step in Kakaako was full.