- Special Projects
Off and on for four years, Andrew Hoskins had lived in the kind of urban oasis that proved ideal as a makeshift homeless camp.
The 54-year-old from Chicago had his tents set up at what state officials call the “Magellan outlook area,” a concrete-walled space tucked away a few steps below Magellan Street near Dole Park.
The space, perched about 20 yards above the H-1 freeway, was mostly hidden from public view close to Dole Park’s bathroom, which he said he took upon himself to clean every day.
But Hoskins knew his time was up on Tuesday when the state’s contractor, Honolulu-based H.T.M. Contractors, was planning a sweep there — part of a new campaign to clear homeless encampments that have sprung up along H-1 and the Nimitz Highway.
Scott Morishige, the governor’s coordinator on homelessness, said the state has earmarked about $4 million to conduct the enforcement on an ongoing basis instead of having the Hawaii Department of Transportation continue its semi-annual sweeps of state land it oversees.
The idea, Morishige says, is to establish a “repeated presence” to deter people from taking up residence on public space.
“To be effective, we have to not only just address these areas once, but also to go back and routinely address these areas,” Morishige said.
The immediate focus will be on “key priority areas” that pose an “immediate health and safety concern” — the areas along H-1 from Middle Street to Kahala Mall, as well as those in the middle of heavy-traffic corridors along Nimitz Highway from the Pearl Harbor interchange to River Street.
“A lot of these areas are really precarious,” Morishige said. “If somebody or something were to fall onto the freeway, there are serious public safety concerns.”
By Tuesday, Hoskins had received ample warnings about the state’s campaign: A “keep away” sign had been installed there last week, and outreach workers, accompanied by sheriff’s deputies, came by to inform him about the upcoming sweeps.
So just before 7 a.m. Hoskins skipped going to his part-time cleaning job — which pays him $190 every two weeks — and began packing up his belongings and joined his friends across Magellan.
There, on the edge of the city-owned Dole Park, Hoskins’ property was safe from the state’s sweeps — at least for now.
But it’s unlikely that Hoskins will get to return to his makeshift home, given that the state will be having H.T.M. Contractors — which ended up sweeping elsewhere along H-1 on Tuesday — erect permanent fences along Magellan in coming days.
Morishige says the state has established protocols to make sure that the rights of people like Hoskins are protected — a lesson learned from what Honolulu went through in a protracted lawsuit that resulted in a court-sanctioned settlement that prevents the city from immediately disposing of any personal items during the sweeps.
Morishige says the state’s protocols are built around the Hawaii Revised Statute’s Chapter 171-31.5, which mandates the storage of abandoned items for 30 days.
H.T.M. Contractors is also directed to allow about 45 minutes before conducting the sweeps.
“We try to provide a period of time that we believe is sufficient to bring down the items,” Morishige said.
Morishige says he also makes sure that there are enough shelter beds available for people who are affected by the sweeps.
“We know that we’re dealing with a population that’s very vulnerable, and our goal isn’t to displace them from one area to another,” said Morishige, who estimates that 500 to 550 beds are available on any given day. “So, when we go out, we always want to make sure that we offer services that can connect someone to housing.”
At Dole Park, however, Hoskins was adamant that he wasn’t going to a shelter.
“I feel rather safer here than at a shelter,” said Hoskins, who was still trying to figure out his next move. “Bed bugs. People stealing your stuff. I don’t have to worry about all that out here.”
Morishige remains hopeful that the state’s campaign will provide the opportunity for ongoing outreach.
“Even if someone doesn’t agree to go into a shelter right away, we can, at the minimum, connect them to an outreach worker, so that we’re able to continue to follow up,” Morishige said.
The question of whether sweeps encourages homeless people to avail shelter services was also raised at a Tuesday meeting of the City Council’s Public Health Committee.
Councilman Ernie Martin asked representatives of various service organizations if the sweeps to enforce the city’s sit-lie bans increased the shelter populations.
The responses varied.
Connie Mitchell of the Institute for Human Services, the state’s largest homeless shelter, said sweeps work as a “referral system” in which police refer homeless people to services. She said some people grow tired of being forced to move, and so opt for shelters.
“When there is compassionate disruption sweeps to enforce the sie-lie there are a small handful of people who end up coming to our shelter, not a significant amount,” said Jason Espero of Waikiki Health. “They end up just hopping to another neighborhood.”
Martin, who represents the North Shore, said sweeps in urban Honolulu push homeless people into rural areas, including the North Shore and Waimanalo. This migration pattern became apparent after the city enforced its first sit-lie ban in Waikiki in 2014, he said.
“They’re starting to migrate out of urban Honolulu and coming into our rural communities,” he said.
Councilwoman Kymberly Pine, who represents the Leeward Coast, said constituents in her district report influxes of homeless people in their neighborhood since the sweeps began in urban Honolulu.
The change has caused conflicts between homeowners, homeless people who have lived in her district and people who end up moving west after sweeps.
“I know that we didn’t have this kind of anger toward the homeless like we’re starting to get now,” she said. “I think that because homeless are being swept so much that they’re getting angrier too.”