A man named Catfish was told by state sheriffs Thursday morning he had five minutes to move from his hangout near the intersection of Nimitz Highway and River Street.
“They told us we have to go,” said Catfish, waiving a hand in the direction of another homeless man nearby. “They are squeezing us out. It’s not right.”
The Nimitz-River Street area was one of 17 sites targeted this week by the state departments of Transportation and Public Safety for security purposes and aesthetic reasons. A DOT spokesman said the last site would be visited Friday, but that sheriffs would not be in tow.
If necessary, another sweep could be made before the APEC summit, which runs Nov. 8-13. While DOT conducts routine structural inspections and cleanup every six months, Dan Meisenzahl stressed that DOT was conducting the current work at the behest of the APEC Host Committee in consultation with the U.S. Secret Service.
The sweep, which began Monday, involves removal of homeless belongings by DOT; the sheriffs are there to make sure things proceed smoothly.
Where, exactly, the homeless would go was not the departments’ kuleana.
But, based on interviews with Catfish and several other evicted homeless, they won’t go far.
“Wherever I want to go, wherever I can go,” said Catfish, who spoke to Civil Beat near Kekaulike Street, just a block from where he had been living. His belongings spilled over several shopping carts; a small dog was tied to one cart, as was a kitten, playing with its tether.
“I’m not going to the shelter,” Catfish continued. “They have stringent rules and regulations that I’m trying to wean myself off of.”
‘Gonna Go Right Back’
DOT and DPS also visited a triangular green patch located between Kukahi and Sumner streets, just off Nimitz.
On Wednesday afternoon, at least a dozen homeless people were spread out here, most of them sleeping. By Thursday morning they were gone, replaced by a lone police officer and a tree-trimming crew. A private security guard on a bicycle kept a watchful eye from across the street.
A homeless man approached and, spying the authorities, kept on walking, heading toward the Institute for Human Services. It was at IHS that Civil Beat located several of the former denizens of the green patch — but they were actually around the corner from IHS, sitting with their belongings in a row along the Iwilei Road sidewalk.
What happened? Did the cops move you?
“They told us we had five minutes to get our ass out of there,” said a man — the same homeless man who just the day before told Civil Beat he wasn’t aware a sweep was coming.
“They harassed us,” said his female friend. “They didn’t take our belongings, but they took one lady’s.”
Where are you guys going to go now?
The man smiled.
“We’re gonna go right back,” he said.
“Yeah,” said his woman friend, directing her attention — and attitude — to Civil Beat. “And bring me some money next time.”
Five Gallons Of Waste
On Magellan Avenue, in a narrow ledge that hugs a concrete wall overlooking H-1, employees for Pacific Commercial Services were hard at work. Among other things, PCS provides environmental remediation and emergency environmental response.
As a traffic cop redirected cars along Magellan, near the pedestrian bridge known as Cyrus Bridge — so named for a baby boy who was thrown to his death from the bridge by an insane person in 2008 — the workers picked up trash, scrubbed walls and did electrical work.
One worker told Civil Beat they had collected about five gallons of waste.
How many homeless people were living here?
The worker guessed about five. He said the removal was peaceful.
A Mattress and Bookshelf
On the Sand Island bridge, Civil Beat caught up with DPS and DOT as they evacuated two areas nestled on the Sand Island Access Road median.
DPS asked us to stay away for safety reasons — not an unreasonable request, given that huge trucks were zipping by.
But, we were able to watch as DOT workers wearing gloves (and, in one case, a face mask) pulled items from one of the median areas. Out come a mattress, a bookshelf, lots of wood and a blue tarp, each tossed in the back of two large trucks.
At one point a sheriff appeared to have caught a whiff of something that smelled really bad.
“Hoo, boy,” he exclaimed.
How many homeless were living here?
A sheriff directed inquiries to a DPS public information officer.
Reached by phone, the DPS PIO, Toni Schwartz, said the sheriffs were not tracking how many homeless were evicted, and added that sheriffs — 10 total — were only involved at the request of DOT.
DOT Spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said he didn’t know how many homeless had been evicted, either.
Routes to Waikiki Targeted
“It’s all encompassing and multi-pronged,” he said. “There’s not just one angle.”
All 17 sites share one major thing in common, however: They are along major thoroughfares linking Honolulu International Airport and Waikiki, where most APEC events are scheduled and where most dignitaries will be staying.
In the case of Nimitz Highway, Meisenzahl said it is the corridor for 80 percent of tourist traffic between the airport and Waikiki.
“This not just about APEC, this is an issue dealing with important transportation structures like the Nimitz Viaduct,” he said. “Unfortunately, people live there, and you should see the things they build. One guy had a generator for AC.”
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