Hilo homeless camp shut down, again

  • Hawaii Police and other county and state agencies addressed illegal structures behind Agasa Furniture on Tuesday. (Courtesy photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Hawaii Police and other county and state agencies addressed illegal structures behind Agasa Furniture on Tuesday. (Courtesy photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Photo by Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Signs warn against trespassing in the lot behind Agasa Furniture & Music Store in Hilo on Tuesday, April 7, 2020.

A downtown Hilo property that repeatedly has become an unpermitted homeless camp over the last year is now under the control of the county.

Third Circuit Judge Henry Nakamoto approved on Monday a motion by Hawaii County to appoint a commissioner to manage a vacant lot at 117 Punahoa St., finally taking control of the troublesome property after more than a year of mismanagement by its owners.

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“The county technically owns the property,” said county Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela. “But we don’t have the deed for it. It’s not that kind of ownership.”

Rather, Kamelamela said, the county is acting as a steward of the property until the commissioner — attorney Paul K. Hamano — completes the sale of the property, whereupon the deed to the property will transfer to the purchaser.

Kamelamela said the hearing on Monday was largely uneventful, although a legal advocate for Elizabeth Jerilyn Rose, one of the property owners, was barred from participating after he admitted to not being licensed to practice law in Hawaii.

As its first act after taking control of the lot, which is located behind Agasa Furniture and Music Store, the county once again cleared the homeless camp from the property Tuesday morning, which the county had previously done in November. County staff ordered 12 people living on the site to leave with their property.

Among the many county departments involved in removing the camp was the county’s COVID-19 task force. In accordance with federal health guidelines issued in the midst of the current coronavirus pandemic, county staff used personal protective equipment during the operation.

According to a county statement, there is “no verifiable information to indicate whether any of the persons on the site were infected by the COVID-19 virus.”

Other agencies involved in the operation included the Hawaii Police Department, the Department of Public Works, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the state Department of Health, the Hawaii Fire Department and HOPE Services Hawaii.

The site is now cordoned off by a temporary fence erected by the county, with DO NOT ENTER signs posted around the perimeter.

The clearing of the lot on Tuesday seemingly marks the end of the homeless camp saga, which began in late 2018 when people began moving onto the vacant lot. Weeks later, a concrete foundation was placed on the lot, a chain-link fence was erected around the property and makeshift structures were built throughout — all without proper permits from the county.

Rose and her fellow property owner Michael Ravenswing were repeatedly issued notices by the county to clear the lot, beginning in January of 2019, but were uncooperative. Because of their continual failure to remove the unpermitted structures, the two quickly racked up thousands of dollars in fines.

While Rose and Ravenswing were found in late 2019 to owe $177,000 to the county, that number has since ballooned to more than $200,000 thanks to interest and the costs of the multiple operations to remove the camps, Kamelamela said.

The value of the lot, assessed at $136,900, will be held against the amount they owe.

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Rose declined to comment on Tuesday.

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

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