Homeless camp razed

  • Michael Brestovansky/Tribune-Herald Workers use heavy equipment to dismantle a downtown Hilo homeless camp Thursday morning.

HILO — A long-standing homeless camp in downtown Hilo was torn down by county workers Thursday after existing for nearly a year.

At 6 a.m. Thursday, about 50 county workers and police officers arrived at a lot on Punahoa Street, between Ponahawai and Mamo streets, to clear unpermitted structures that have stood on the site since late last year.

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Barrett Otani, executive assistant to Mayor Harry Kim, hailed the occupants of the camp, giving them an hour to collect personal belongings and leave the site, which they did without incident.

“It’s gone very pleasantly, actually,” said police Capt. Kenneth Quiocho. “There hasn’t been any resistance from anyone.”

Quiocho added that no arrests were made during the operation.

The operation involved roughly 25 police officers and approximately 12 workers each from the Department of Public Works and its Highways Division, Otani said.

After the occupants dispersed, workers used heavy equipment to dismantle the structures, which ranged from improvised shacks, tents, chainlink fences and a large concrete slab foundation. The site was completely cleared by the end of Thursday, save for some personal belongings that former camp occupants will be able to reclaim, and a small section of the concrete slab at the north end of the lot, which Quiocho said was legally installed before the camp was set up.

Otani said camp occupants will have a certain period of time — likely 30 days — during which they can reclaim their property. Any unclaimed property after that period of time will be discarded.

The remnants of the camp were similarly thrown away, Otani said.

Also at the scene was an outreach team from Hope Services Hawaii. Outreach Team Leader Carrie Hoopii said the team offered support from Hope Services Hawaii to the occupants of the camp.

Hoopii said Hope Services has conducted outreach at the camp twice weekly since it formed. By her count, there were 10 people residing within the camp at the time of its dismantling, two of whom accepted outreach from Hope Services.

The remainder of the occupants refused support, but accepted supplies offered by the outreach team, including hygiene products and umbrellas, Hoopii said.

Although the camp has been removed, the year-long saga of the camp is not yet over. Hawaii County Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela said the owners of the lot — Big Island residents Elizabeth Jerilyn Rose and Michael Ravenswing — will be on the hook for the cost of the operation, which has not yet been determined, as well as fines accrued during months of non-compliance with county codes.

In October, those fines totaled nearly $200,000.

Rose and Ravenswing received numerous notices and, later, orders from the county to remove structures from the lot since January, but the two were consistently difficult to reach and uncooperative. At one point, Rose claimed the property had been transferred to “The Rose Hawaiian Trust” in 2018, but no record of such a transfer could be found.

The duo failed to attend a hearing in September that led to the court order that permitted the county to dismantle the camp. Rose later wrote a letter to the county claiming she had not been told at which Big Island courthouse the hearing would be held.

Kamelamela said the county is drafting some form of further action against Rose and Ravenswing that will require them to make a future court appearance, but could not provide further details.

For now, Kamelamela said the court order filed against Rose and Ravenswing in late September remains in effect.

“Right now, the order says they can’t build any structures without any permits,” Kamelamela said.

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Rose did not respond to a request for comment Thursday, but Kamelamela said she visited the Corporation Counsel office that day seeking copies of documents related to the case. Otani said neither of the owners made appearances during the camp’s dismantling.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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