Homeless people along Nimitz Highway were surprised to learn that the Hawaii Department of Transportation has targeted their removal in advance of the APEC summit.

“We’re not harming anyone,” said a woman sitting on a blanket under a shady tree between Kukahi and Sumner streets.

The DOT thinks differently.

It wants to remove homeless people and their possessions in an effort to make the major transportation route more pleasing to international visitors expected for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit slated for Nov. 7-13. President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other world dignitaries are expected to attend.

The location, across the street from Flora Dec and near Kmart, on Wednesday afternoon held about a dozen homeless people, none of whom had heard about the DOT’s plans, which began Monday.

“It’s a nice spot,” said a man who, like the woman, declined to give his name. “We don’t have a tent.”

Where will the two go when DOT comes? Maybe to the nearby Institute for Human Services?

“That place is messed up,” said the man, grumbling something about the services. “We’ll go to the Convention Center. APEC … we got free speech, don’t we?”

Planted Palms and Sod

Nimitz directly links Waikiki with Honolulu International Airport, and so APEC particpants are likely to take the bustling six-lane highway.

The four sites where homeless have congregated along Nimitz are visible to anyone driving by. Besides the Kukahi-Sumner area, they include River Street, the Keehi Interchange that leads to Sand Island and the interchange between Nimitz and Kamehameha Highway.

Work crews — they include prisoners, whose room and board are covered by the government — are nearly finished planting hundreds of palms and grassy sod along Nimitz. The “beautification” helps, but Nimitz will remain an ugly industrial and warehouse corridor.

The removal of the homeless people Civil Beat encountered Wednesday afternoon are apparently part of the beautification, to be gotten rid of like any other unsightly element.

Dan Meisenzahl, DOT chief of communications, said the clearing out process is expected to last a week.

“It could be shorter depending on what they find,” he said via email. “For instance, there were not as many homeless in the Nimitz Viaduct area as expected so the clean up should not last as long as expected.”

A Man and His Dog

There were only three or four homeless visible in the viaduct when Civil Beat drove by. And there was just one man sleeping under a tree at the Keehi junction.

In spite of the heavy vehicle traffic, the man was sleeping on a checkered blanket with a black dog, insects buzzing around them both. Startled when a reporter approached, the dog barked, waking the man.

Have you heard about the DOT sweep? It was in the newspaper today.

“No,” the man replied, appearing groggy. “I didn’t read the Advertiser this morning.”

Though wearing heavily soiled clothing, the man explained he was not homeless, that he lived on a boat. He said he was a chemist and a Vietnam veteran.

At his side were two science fiction novels, one with a picture of Sean Connery on the cover.

“I met him once,” the man said of Connery.

Great actor, replied Civil Beat, which thanked him for his time and left.

A check of a fifth DOT target — Sand Island bridge — didn’t turn up any homeless. But there were several nearby, camped out at the Sand Island Boat Launch Facility.

Back along Sand Island Access Road, a shirtless man was pushing a shopping cart and muttering to himself.

As cars waited to turn on to Nimitz, the man with the dog walked up to cars with a small cardboard sign that read, “No job. Please help.”

About the Author