HILO — Twelve homeless people sheltering in Mooheau Park were moved to shelters following a “deep clean” of the park’s facilities.
Hawaii County Parks and Recreation closed the park Friday in order to conduct a thorough cleaning of the area, particularly the bandstand and the bus stop, both of which have long been havens for homeless people seeking shelter.
“It wasn’t just homeless people there,” said Parks maintenance worker Bobby Peahu. “We found some feces and other stuff there.”
Maurice Messina, Parks and Recreation deputy director, said community policing officers helped move about 20 homeless people off-site before the cleaning began early Friday.
Mayor Harry Kim said Hope Services Hawaii offered to place the homeless occupants of the park in shelters. Twelve of them accepted the offer, while the remainder left the scene.
“They didn’t just clean up the place, they really cleaned up the place,” Kim said.
The deep cleaning was a reaction to the steadily worsening condition at the park. Homeless communities lingering at the park led to increasingly unsanitary conditions, with trash and human waste accumulating throughout the park.
Because of the park’s close proximity to high-traffic areas like the Hilo Farmers Market and the Bayfront area, residents and visitors alike were being exposed to a potentially dangerous environment, Kim said.
In order to ensure the park remains safe and clean, Messina said two security guards will monitor the park at all times — one guard at the bandstand and another at the bus stop. The park’s hours also will be changed; now it will be open only from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and only groups with permits — such as sports teams — or approved events will be allowed to use the park after hours.
However, Messina said the Bayfront Trails, part of which cut through the park, will remain open after the posted hours.
“We want this to be a new slate for the park,” Messina said.
Kim said Hilo’s homeless problem is not just a Hilo problem, but one that must be addressed islandwide. And although he said the county will do anything in its power to assist homeless people willing to accept help, the conditions seen at the park were unacceptable.
“This is a county park. It’s for the people,” Kim said. “It’s not your private dump. It’s not your private toilet.”
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