Homeless Cleared from Kahului Encampment
By Wendy Osher
Truckloads of personal belongings were removed this morning as 30 individuals were evicted today from a homeless encampment in Kahului where authorities say complaints have surfaced over illegal activity. Other concerns include public health and safety.
The camp is located on land owned by the US Coast Guard on Kane Street, and is adjacent to the Family Life Center, which provides services for homeless.
“Our final notice was to be out of here by 8 o’clock this morning, if not they’re going to start arresting us because they say we’re trespassing,” said Lorna Maalea.
Maalea been without a home since July of last year and has been living at this particular encampment since before Thanksgiving. Like others at the site, she has declined help and is not sure where she’ll go next.
“They’re not addressing the real problem. they keep chasing us away. Where ever we go they chase us away,” said Maalea. “As far as a place to stay,” Maalea said she was offered help from the Family Life Center next door, “but then after speaking to other members that had them help them, it wasn’t a very good experience for them, so therefore, that’s why we’re out here because they choose to help who they want to help and how they want to help them.”
County officials say social workers and others have been actively and assertively engaging unsheltered people to get them housing and other much-needed services.
Lori Tsuhako, Director of the Department of Housing and Human Concerns said, “”What has gone on concurrently is that the outreach workers who work with homeless who are unsheltered, have been going in repeatedly to offer services to the people who are in those encampments, and unfortunately they’ve not chosen to utilize the services that have been offered. Antectdotally, I know that services here on Maui have the capacity to house every one of those people, but they’ve not wanted to engage in housing services so it’s really quite sad.”
According to the latest Point in Time Homeless Count, there are 862 homeless individuals in Maui County–this includes 442 unsheltered people– 192 of whom are living in Central Maui. The numbers are only a 1% improvement from last year, but housing officials say progress is being made.
“I think that the thing that we are doing better now than we did 10 years ago is that the coordination among the agencies, the use of common assessment tools, and the coordinated entry system,” said Tsuhako.
Under this program, those with chronic conditions, and those more likely to die on the street, are prioritized so that they stay homeless for shorter periods of time.
“Complaints about this homeless encampment triggered this intervention action, following issuance of trespass notices. Such encampments are a public health and safety concern,” said Maui Mayor Michael Victorino.
“Clearing and cleaning out such sites are a collaborative effort among county departments, including the Department of Housing and Human Concerns, the Maui Police Department, the Department of Public Works, Department of Environmental Management, Department of Parks and Recreation, state agencies and private landowners. I appreciate all their work to make our community safe and healthy for everyone,” he said in an email statement to Maui Now.
“Meanwhile, intervention in encampments is not the only action we’re undertaking. Social workers and others have been actively and assertively engaging unsheltered people to get them housing and other much-needed services. A recent ‘Point-in-Time’ Survey found homelessness down slightly in Maui County. While that was encouraging, we have more work to do. Addressing homeless ‘hot-spots’ requires compassion for people who’ve fallen on hard times, suffer from mental illness or other circumstances,” said Mayor Victorino.
Maalea tells us compassion goes a long way. “A lot of people judge us because we’re here you know by choice you know. but times is hard and they could find themselves in the same place that we’re at. You know, I didn’t ask to be here but unfortunately you know due to circumstances, this is where I ended up,” said Maalea.
County officials say it is their hope that eventually, homeless individuals will accept offers for services and resources that the county and social service agencies provide.
Tsuhako said their efforts involve a partnership with the county, the state, and with private landowners. She said there are some rules in place that prevent encampments popping up in areas within certain boundaries like bus stops. “But,” she said, “there’s no real way we can prevent it from happening except with the hope that by offering services to those who are without homes, we can get them off the street altogether… That’s our hope.”
“We’ve been coordinating with the police, as well as with the department of public works and environmental management to go in and to clean up the property,” said Tsuhako. “I think maybe one of the neighbors will be working with the Coast Guard to try and establish a fence line so that we can prevent another encampment from growing in the same location.”
Just last month, the Hawai‘i Lodging & Tourism Association, in partnership with the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority distributed $150,000 to nine nonprofit organizations on Maui that serve the homeless.
The recipients were Catholic Charities of Hawaiʻi, Maui Division; Family Life Center; Feed My Sheep; Habitat for Humanity; Hale Kau Kau; Ka Hale a Ke Ola Homeless Resource Center; Keiki Cupboard; Maui Food Bank, and The Salvation Army Hawaiian & Pacific Division, Maui Corps.
“I think we’ve gotten a little bit more funding, but even if we have more funding, we need to use it in a way that makes more sense,” said Tsuhako. “So, instead of having five agencies doing the exact same thing in the exact same place, we’re trying to coordinate and be more aware that we have limited resources.” She continued saying, “We need to work smarter and try to get more people housed and have them stay housed.”
The Kane Street encampment is just one of several that have caught the public eye in recent months. Residents say there’s another growing encampment near Y-Hata near Kahului Harbor and housing officials have been alerted to an encampment on private land near Airport Road and Pakaula Street.
“The homeless division juggles a whole bunch of different encampments based on complaints that we get from the community,” said Tsuhako. “What the homeless division does is contact the private landowner and try to arrange for support and what else can we do. Can we help you with giving notice that these people are trespassing. Ensuring that the homeless outreach workers go out and talk to the folks that are there and offer them services for that before the homeless camp is disrupted, there’s been very assertive efforts to engage with these folks and say hey, you know you’re going to be moved out of this area pretty soon and are you willing to work with us so that we can get you housed.”
“I think that’s the most important thing is the assertive effort to make outreach to these folks so that they’re not just moved from one place to another, without a sense that there is an alternative for us here. Because people are in a hard spot, a lot of them,” said Tsuhako.