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Nimitz Highway Viaduct Cleanup Begins

Wayne Yoshioka

The State Department of Transportation is leading a multi-agency effort to clear homeless encampments under the Nimitz Highway Viaduct. HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.

Credit Wayne Yoshioka
Shirley Torres holds her dogs as Steve Prieta from the Hawaiian Humane Society puts a leash on.

A half dozen people –some with dogs -- lined their belongings along the Makai side of the H-1 Freeway off-ramp.  State contract crews across the roadway removed debris and abandoned property from under the Nimitz Highway Viaduct.  Shirley Torres has four dogs and has been living under the viaduct for 8 years.

“They came Saturday and told us we gotta get out Sunday.  And they gave us a wise attitude, the Sheriff.  You know, I cannot even go inside and get my water, my food is all in there.  I lost plenty clothes.  You know, we cannot go back inside.  They going shut ‘em down so I trying to get into the Trans Home at Sand Island.  They say a hundred dollars a month and they take the dogs and train ‘em.”

The Hawaiian Humane Society is also at the site.  Allison Gammell is the Community Relations Director.

“We’re out here today talking with people to see if they are able to care for their dogs.  If they’re unable to do or feel like they need assistance, we can take the dogs into the Hawaiian Humane Society.  We’re also handing out food, collars and leashes.  We also have out chief Veterinarian out here today providing flea treatments, doing wellness checks on the animals.”

Credit Wayne Yoshioka
(L-R) Scott Morishige, Governor's coordinator on homelessness; and Tim Sakahara, communications director, Department of Transportation.

But there are a number of hold-outs in the area.  Scott Morishige, the Governor’s Coordinator on Homelessness, says outreach workers were successful last week in convincing some people to move and will continue that effort .

“As of Monday, it was estimated there are 180 people.  As of Friday it was 120.  So we know that at least 60 people have relocated from the area.  We were able to get 5 people into shelter, one person into residential treatment.  And then we’re also working with animal rescue organizations to have 60 dogs rescued from the area and 24 cats.”

Credit Wayne Yoshioka
Robbie Malone (right) accepts some dog food from Hawaiian Humane Society worker.

The State Department of Transportation is using 2 million dollars appropriated by the legislature and 2 million in matching DOT funds.  Communications Director, Tim Sakahara, says this is only the beginning of the multi-agency cleanup project.

“We’re anticipating it to be finished around mid-November.  We wanna do the work quickly but we also want to do it right.  And, yes, we are going to be storing the property as well for a minimum of 30 days.  So, yeah, it will take us into mid-November before the entire operation is finished.”

When the cleanup is completed, the viaduct area will be fenced off so it can be used by the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation to store rail construction equipment.  Meanwhile, Robbie Malone, who has lived under the viaduct for 9 years, contemplates his next move and possibly working for an hourly wage.

“We gotta leave.  We cannot stay here.  Maybe after they sweep we go across the street and go back.  But I heard they’re gonna sweep the whole place, now.  So I dunno.  I have to go back to work, I guess.  Been a carpenter for 24 years.  Fifty-seven bucks.  Good money.”

For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.

Wayne Yoshioka
Wayne Yoshioka is an award-winning journalist who has worked in television, print and radio in Hawaiʻi. He also has been on both sides of politics as a state departmental appointee and political/government reporter. He covered Hurricane Iwa (1982) as a TV reporter; was the State Department of Defense/Civil Defense spokesperson for Hurricane Iniki (1992); and, commanded a public affairs detachment in Afghanistan (2006). He has a master's degree in Communication from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and is a decorated combat veteran (Legion of Merit, Bronze Star and 22 other commendation/service medals). He resides in Honolulu.
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