Police on Wednesday cleared the Honolulu homeless encampment on Kalakaua Avenue across from the Hawaii Convention Center, just six days before the APEC summit.
The row of tents and carts, positioned at the main entryway into Waikiki, would have been visible to diplomats and the international press. The Convention Center is the location for most APEC meetings and where the media center is located.
Officers from the Honolulu Police Department and volunteers from the Institute for Human Services swept in around 8 a.m. Within hours, about eight homeless people and their belongings were gone from the block-long sidewalk and fence area that stretches from the old Hard Rock Cafe to the Ala Wai Canal.
One of those homeless men, who called himself Fleming, said he had been living in the area for about four months. Before that he spent four months at Ala Moana Park.
“I don’t know where I’m going to go — maybe Waianae,” he said. “I like go back to Maui.”
Fleming said the cops told him why he had to leave.
“APEC,” he said. “I don’t know what is that, but, you know, must be something very important.”
Not Because of APEC
Officially, APEC was said not to be the reason for the homeless removal. The land adjacent to the sidewalk is owned by PBS Hawaii.
“We’ve been working on this for months,” Leslie Wilcox, president and CEO of PBS Hawaii, told Civil Beat. “The strip of our land fronting the city sidewalk is not a place to live.”
She said the growing size of the encampment and complaints from neighbors — not the timing of APEC — prompted the cleanup.
“We obviously knew APEC was coming up, but we saw the problem months ago,” she said. “I realize this looks like it’s an APEC thing, but it’s really not.”
Wilcox said the organization worked with social services providers to “make sure people living there are offered services and alternative shelter.”
She said it took several months to iron out legal issues, including who has jurisdiction over the portion of the property being used by homeless individuals.
“PBS Hawaii bought that property out of bankruptcy, so sometimes you don’t get all the representation as with a normal transaction,” she said. “We had to do research … and just vet any restrictions on the property and then apply for permit to build a fence.”
The property has been listed for sale several times since PBS purchased it in November 2003. Wilcox said the property is on the market and a for sale sign will go up Saturday.
Shelters ‘Too Strict’
Some of the homeless campers were aware that they might be the target of a cleanup.
Donya Hernandes, 40, told Civil Beat Tuesday that she thought the government was trying to get rid of them because they are an “eyesore problem.”
“For government, it is easier to make us as a statistic and to get us out of their way until they are good and ready to deal with us on whatever terms they want to help us with on,” she said.
Hernandes said she struggles with depression. She said she has tried living in shelters, but the rules are too strict.
On Wednesday, Hernandes was no longer living across from the Convention Center.
Volunteers wearing gloves moved tents, carts and bicycle parts from the sidewalk to the adjacent lot that serves as a Reynolds Recycling drop-off spot.
One of the IHS volunteers, who identified himself as Dan, said the evacuation and cleanup was “fairly peaceful.”
HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu told Civil Beat, “Everyone left on their own and there were no arrests.”
Dan, the IHS volunteer, said most of the homeless picked up their belongings and left right away. He was not sure where they were going.
“What we were told at IHS, they had been given notice several times,” he said.
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