It turns out someone walking around in a bright yellow security vest, blue T-shirt and black slacks can make a difference in keeping homeless people from camping in parks.
This week marks the end of a one-month pilot project that put private security guards on patrol in nine central Honolulu parks. After seeing a significant reduction in the number of homeless people camping in all the parks, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said Wednesday that he plans to extend the contract another month and a half.
“We’re going to continue to try different things and see what works, and if it works continue to do it,” Caldwell told Civil Beat.
The city’s contract with Hawaii Protective Association for the program cost $44,000 for the first month and will cost another $56,000 to extend. The administration plans to request money to continue it and put guards in more Oahu parks in the next fiscal year, which begins in July.
Under the contract, two unarmed security guards drive from park to park at all hours telling people what the rules are and sometimes threatening to call the police if people refuse to comply. Unlike police, the guards don’t have the authority to issue citations for illegal activity.
Caldwell said they are trained to talk with homeless people in a way that’s both compassionate and effective at moving them out of the park.
“It’s how you’re trained to handle these situations,” he said. “If I went up and told them to move, I don’t think they would move. I’m the mayor.”
He also said staffing shortages make it difficult for police officers to spend time patrolling parks.
The Hawaii Protective Association and the Honolulu Police Department did not respond to requests for comment.
The pilot launched Nov. 15, the same day the city reopened Old Stadium Park, Crane Community Park and Moiliili Community Park, all of which were closed for maintenance and repairs of damage caused by homeless campers.
McCully-Moiliili Neighborhood Board Chair Tim Streitz said the security presence at Old Stadium Park, once crowded with tents, has kept homeless people from returning. He said parents now feel it’s safe to bring their children to the park, which had become cluttered with the belongings of homeless people.
“You’re allowing the park to be used by the broader community and not monopolized,” Streitz said.
Homeless encampments haven’t entirely disappeared from Old Stadium Park. A small alleyway lined with tents on the side of the park has become a sort of “gray area” where people continue to camp, said Georgette Preston, who used to live in the park and still visits frequently.
Preston said some homeless people feel targeted by the guards. She said guards have told them they can’t have dogs in the park, but allow other park users to walk dogs.
“They’re just picking and choosing,” she said. “They said they’re there to deter homeless activities. What exactly is ‘homeless activities’? We’d like that clarified.”
The other parks patrolled by the guards include Aala Park, Ala Wai Community Park, Ala Wai Neighborhood Park, Kamamalu Neighborhood Park, Mother Waldron Neighborhood Park and Pawaa In-Ha Park.
The hiring of the guards is the latest in a series of tactics the city has used to get homeless people out of parks.
For years, maintenance crews have removed people’s tents and belongings under the city’s stored property ordinance and police have issued citations to people camping in parks. In April, the city hired a separate private security company to lock gates and bathrooms at certain parks at night.
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