Oahu homeless ‘safe zone’ turns to waste-ridden encampment

HONOLULU — City officials have received complaints that homeless people from a large encampment are dumping human waste into Pokai Bay, Oahu, among other issues, and one official warns the camp may be shut down unless changes are made.

State and city lawmakers once looked at the Puuhonua O Waianae encampment as a potential model for what government-sanctioned homeless “safe zones” could look like across the islands. But the encampment has taken a much different route since it opened in 2016, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Sunday.

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Councilwoman Kymberly Pine said safe zones officials want to “have sanitary conditions, roofs over people’s heads, security and an environment that does not destroy” natural resources. She said residents are concerned about the environment.

“Either they actually put houses there, or bathrooms there and security there or they find another location with all of the assistance they need,” Pine said. “We are at risk of being forced to shut it down.”

State Department of Land and Natural Resources officials worry that occupants living in the oceanfront encampment are running up the harbor’s water bills while destroying cultural and natural resources on the land between Waianae High School and the Waianae Small Boat Harbor.

The Hawaii Interagency Council on Homelessness said in a December report to the state Legislature that the camp census has fluctuated from a high of 319 to a low of 170 individuals. Currently, the report said, “there is significant disagreement in the current estimated size of the Waianae camp.”

Encampment resident Moki Hokoana, 45, said it’s easy to blame the homeless for issues such as household appliances being dumped nearby.

“It’s the outsiders that cause the trouble,” Hokoana said. “It’s not us. What are we going to do with water heaters?”

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But Ed Underwood, administrator for DLNR’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, cited a long list of problems at the boat harbor tied to the encampment occupants.

“Often they just make a giant pile of trash in the harbor and we’ve had to clean up that pile,” Underwood said. “There’s vandalism in the bathrooms. They’re flushing cans down the toilets. They leave water running. It’s a never-ending battle. In my opinion, if you’re going to do safe zones, you’re going to need to provide social services, water, restroom facilities and all of that. There should be some sort of security involved.”