State officials have closed certain water spigots at the Waianae Boat Harbor, cutting off water for nearly 200 families at The Harbor homeless camp.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources shut off the water last month for what officials say is a routine road repaving project. The water is expected to be off for about two months.
But it caught the long-established homeless camp by surprise, and has left them struggling to find new supplies of water they need for drinking, bathing and washing clothes and dishes.
People have lived in the encampment next to the boat harbor for nearly 10 years. Long called simply The Harbor, supporters now call it Puuhonua O Waianae. The 19-acre stretch of state-owned land is home to dozens of homeless families, most of them Native Hawaiian, who have set up sometimes elaborate shelters among the kiawe trees.
Twinkle Borge has been the camp’s de facto leader for many years. Borge says she found out the water would be cut off about a week before it happened, and scrambled to rig up an alternative water source for her community.
But Deborah Ward, a DLNR spokeswoman, said the department contacted Borge three times between Sept. 28 and Oct. 23.
Correction: An earlier version of this story did not include information about DNLR’s communication with Borge.
Borge feels slighted the state didn’t do more to help her community.
“We’re not animals, we’re humans,” she said. “We weren’t in their thoughts but we should have been.”
State officials say shutting off the water had nothing to do with the encampment.
“This is not a homeless issue,” Ward said. “Let us be clear that these (people) are camping without authorizations on state property, they’re not residents.”
Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator, said his office focuses on getting people from the encampment to homeless shelters or permanent housing. The area doesn’t have access to water or toilet facilities, he said, because people aren’t supposed to live there.
“The role of my office is to coordinate outreach services,” Morishige said, “create opportunities to move people out of these areas that are not meant for people to live.”
Two weeks have passed since the state capped the spigots and last week the homeless campers seemed to be taking it in stride.
“Wherever there’s water, I load up,” said Babydoll Aio.
Like many people at the camp, Aio doesn’t have a car so she uses a shopping cart to carry water jugs from her tent to nearby public parks.
She doesn’t waste a drop, she said, and uses dirty dishwater to water her plants.
Other residents get water from family or friends who live nearby.
“It’s not like we’re dying of thirst,” said encampment resident Loke Chung-Lono, who has long helped Borge manage the encampment.
Ken Koike, a Waianae Coast Neighborhood Board member who is involved in supporting the Puuhonua community, expressed frustration that the department didn’t inform community members soon enough that the water would be shut off.
“We’re grateful that the upgrades are being made,” Koike said. “It’s just the lack of communication is horrendous and it (has a) greater impact on our community.”
Koike and Borge say the state should make the encampment a legal homeless safe zone. Borge said people in the encampment are willing to pay for the water they use, the state just needs to add water meters to the spigots.
“I want to be self sustaining,” Borge said.
Now, both Koike and Borge worry cutting off water is part of a plan to move people off the land.
Morishige said that shutting off the water has nothing to do with the encampment and is strictly a result of the construction.
“We certainly have no intention at this time to do an enforcement on the property,” he said, referring to sweeps of homeless encampments on state land.
Borge wonders if the state is cutting off water from certain spigots to target the homeless community. She notes that even though spigots near the encampment have been turned off, water still flows to the hoses people use to wash their boats in other parts of the harbor.
Ward, the DLNR spokeswoman, said the water is still on in some parts of the boat harbor because the construction project is planned in phases and the homeless camp is affected by this particular phase.
A group called Tyrell’s Angels plans to build a water catchment system within the encampment “so that these families do not go without water this holiday season,” according to a GoFundMe page that says the group has raised about $1,500.