Sometimes I feel like I am the guardian of Diamond Head as I take morning walks for exercise around the famous crater and get increasingly huhu (mad).
Recently I saw a queen-sized mattress dumped on the side of Diamond Head Road. I am pretty sure the homeless didn’t throw it there. It would have been too much trouble for them to haul such a conventional bed down from their perches on the crater’s steep slopes. They like to sleep in hammocks.
The mattress was probably flung out of a passing truck by an illegal dumper too impatient to wait for the city’s bulky item pickup.
It turns out, however, that Diamond Head’s homeless campers have trashed the crater in ways that weren’t fully documented with photos in my Dec. 13 column. Since then I have received a series of photos I requested from the Division of State Parks from its sweeps of some 40 encampments on the slopes above the lighthouse Nov. 9 and Dec. 2.
State Parks Division administrator Curt Cottrell says that during the sweeps notices to vacate were left at 32 homeless campsites and 11 campers were cited for trespassing in a closed area. He estimates 60 homeless individuals were living on slopes mauka of Diamond Head Road.
Since then, most of the campers have ignored the orders the state left for them to get out in 48 hours.
Cottrell’s photos were from trashier encampments than Civil Beat photographer Cory Lum and I visited for my column. They give a better sense of why the state and nearby residents are worried about what Cottrell calls a “festering” state of garbage and human waste.
There are no public toilets on Diamond Head’s outer slopes. Homeless camper Joseph Kerr told me if he’s unable make it to bathrooms in Kapiolani Park he uses a porta-potty — that’s if he’s able to find one on nearby roads. Or else he digs holes in the ground — an unsanitary solution.
Cottrell called a photo of a tent with a red roof “a poster child for just the worst mess. It looks like a bomb went off in the tent and blasted all the camper’s possessions out the door.”
Another tent state park workers photographed was filled with trash, with more rubbish flowing out of its sides.
Cottrell says the mess in front of the tent with the green rain fly includes dozens of empty beer bottles and cans of energy drinks. The camper might be saving them to recycle, but they shouldn’t be strewn about on Oahu’s most iconic monument.
The state’s photos show other encampments that are rimmed with possessions too big to fit inside tents as well as piles of rubbish.
On Friday, Cottrell said he’s still hoping to get permission from the state’s homeless coordinator, Scott Morishige, to post signs on at the heads of 13 illegal trails on the mauka side of Diamond Head Road to tell the homeless campers they have 30 days to remove their possessions. And after that deadline, everything left behind will be hauled away by the state as abandoned property.
Cottrell says his main hope is the campers will take what is theirs and not force the state to pay a lot of money to rent space to store odds and ends and some items that are essentially rubbish.
“That is the crux of the entire issue. The legal ambiguity of what constitutes property versus what constitutes rubbish,” says Cottrell.
Honolulu police say they are having their own problems trying to get illegal campers to move off of the slopes on the ocean side of Diamond Head, all of which falls under the city’s jurisdiction.
In the past, when homeless campers on the state-controlled slopes of Diamond Head were evicted, they simply moved their camps across the street to the city-controlled land.
Honolulu Police Sgt. Jerome Pacarro’s Community Policing Team 7 – East Honolulu is responsible for the Diamond Head cliffs area.
Pacarro says they are trying to get the homeless to move out by citing them for camping during the city beach park’s nightly closure from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m.
He estimates there are five or six encampments in kiawe thickets on the cliffs above the ocean, maybe more.
But he says the difficulty for his officers is the homeless campers have to be cited after 10 p.m. for violating park hours. But many of the campers are perched on steep slopes, difficult for beat officers to reach in the dark.
“It’s a nightmare for enforcement,” Pacarro says. “With only moonlight and their flashlights to light their way, it is too dangerous for the officers to climb up the unstable slopes. If their feet slip, they are going to get hurt.”
Pacarro says they are giving citations now only to illegal campers in lower, easier to reach areas beside the ocean.
“But we haven’t given up, “ he says.
For nighttime enforcement, he says police are exploring a number of options such as teaching technical climbing to officers who want to learn or using floodlights to better light the way for the officers climbing the slopes to reach some of more inaccessible camps.
Pacarro says, “We will enforce as best as we can, but I definitely have to think of the safety of the officers and that’s the message I would like to give to the public while we try to overcome this obstacle.”
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Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.