Residents participate in weekly area cleanups - Photo: Courtesy Hui Aloha

He hale kipa no la ho‘i ko ke kōlea ha‘iha‘i ‘e ‘ia na iwi.
The house of a plover might have been that of a friend if one hadn’t broken his bones.
(A stranger might have been a friend if he hadn’t been treated so shamefully.)

According to OHA’s recent online survey of 2,700 respondents, the most important issue facing Hawaiians today is affordable homeownership. Poverty in Hawai‘i ranked fourth out of 16 contemporary issues, showing that simply meeting basic human needs are top of mind for most who live here. Many of us live paycheck to paycheck, which means that we constantly hover very close to financial and housing instability. There is a growing population of residents with no stable housing and no means to realistically gain housing, despite working multiple jobs.

One example of this is the small, close-knit community of houseless individuals who live along the highway fronting Waimānalo Beach Park in Windward O‘ahu who call themselves “Waimānalo Camp.” In 2018 Camp residents met with representatives from the government and the neighborhood board. They reached an agreement that would allow them to remain there until a more permanent solution could be crafted. According to James Koshiba, co-founder of Hui Aloha, a nonprofit that supports houseless communities, land has since been donated and a permanent solution is in the works. “Senate Bill 2442 is moving forward in the legislature to fund the project,” said Koshiba.

I went to visit Waimānalo Camp on a breezy aloha Friday in February and met Aunty Roz, one of their leaders. Earlier that day, she was informed by Marc Alexander, Executive Director of the City and County’s Office of Housing, that their camp would be swept in March.

This news came as a shock to those attending Waimānalo’s Neighborhood Board meeting the following week, including Councilmember Ikaika Anderson, Representative Chris Lee, and Waimānalo Neighborhood Board Chair Kimeone Kane. Attendees were perturbed that the City had not previously informed them of its intentions.

“Sweeps will only push people into residential areas or into outlying coastal areas. This will not be good for the wider Waimānalo community,” insists Koshiba. “With people scattered, it will make it harder for service providers to reach homeless people in Waimānalo. Homeless individuals will lose possessions, have less access to services, and be in worse physical and mental health after a sweep.” Koshiba noted that HPD has had a strong presence at the park recently, ticketing campers for minor infractions (e.g., using the park restrooms after park hours). These tickets will eventually become bench warrants. This process is called the “pre-sweep.”

When the City sweeps the houseless they are able to execute those bench warrants and put people in jail. Their possessions, valuables, food and medication will be gone. When they are released, they will literally have nothing but the clothes on their backs and nowhere to go.

As of this writing, some local representatives are meeting to try to prevent the sweep at Waimānalo Beach Park. Koshiba advises that the best way others can help is to get involved. “Contact your representatives and urge them to have compassion, to support the houseless, and of course stop the sweep.”