The Conversation: Perspectives on Honolulu's Homeless Sweeps

Aug 21, 2020

City and service providers fight over homeless sweeps; Joyful noise from youth chorus; COVID's effect on choral societies; Healing stones in Waikiki; Celebrating coconuts

Organizations call on Honolulu to end homeless sweeps

Today, we take a fascinating look at how Honolulu's COVID experience is playing out on the streets. Remember, over 2,000 unsheltered homeless were tallied on Oahu's streets in the last official count. Early into this pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines saying, "Unless individual housing units are available, do not clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19. In March, the Honolulu Police Department and the City & County of Honolulu suspended homeless disruptions, but they resumed in May after HPD's Provisional Outdoor Screening and Triage Center, the POST, opened at Keehi Lagoon Park. We were there with Capt. Mike Lambert - up to 150 tents and 200 people can be accommodated. With those shelters in place, HPD homeless sweeps continue today. That's a problem, according to ACLU Hawaii and over 70 other local organizations and individuals. ACLU Executive Director Joshua Wisch contends that with community spread and COVID outbreaks at Oahu Community Correctional Center and homeless shelters, dispersing unsheltered. people endanges the public.

Credit Max Pixel

City's housing director on sweeps

On the topic of homeless sweeps, HPD Chief Susan Ballard said, "The Center for Disease Control's guideline discourages the breaking up of encampments when there is no safe place for the homeless to relocate to. Fortunately, POST provides free and safe housing accommodations on Oahu for those who choose it. As with other types of offenses, enforcement is based on violation of the law or emergency orders. We had Honolulu Housing Director Marc Alexander explain the City's position on these HPD activities.

Homeless and care providers on notice

Partners in Care Executive Director Laura Thielen says both homeless and care providers have been put on notice by HPD.

How prison releases affected homelessness

Hawaii Health and Harm Reduction Center, H3RC, is a key street service provider. Executive Director Heather Lusk says when COVID hit, everything changed for people there, too. In addition, the first round of prison releases led to emergency needs for shelter and services.

Being homeless at a Honolulu park

Crane Park in Kapahulu has seen better times. Thirty to forty people live in and aorund the park now. They're clustered in groups around the pavilion, one man plays an ukulele Tiny Tim style, and on the park side, I met Jonathan, 42, from Kalihi. He was a transporter at VIP Trans, but with medical issues and bills, he couldn't keep his job, and ended up on the street. Now his job wants him back but his medical condition has worsened.

Perspective from the state's coordinator on homelessness

Scott Morishige is the Governor's Coordinator on Homelessness. There are calls in this community for leadership, oversight, meanwhile, on the gorund, there is servant leadership every day. Community groups, churches, individuals online, people who make that extra phone call, or just drive up and offer food and clothing. In Hawaii, it's a kakou thing.

Hawaii Youth Opera Chorus
Credit Hawaii Youth Opera Chorus

Joyful noise from youth chorus

A kakou thing is something we do together and choral singing is certainly that. Hawaii Youth Opera Chorus, HYOC, brings kids together year round to belt their hearts out, normally. This summer's opera was of course online - a video production of Laieikawai, a romance about the Princess of Paliuli. HYOC general manager Malia Kaai syas they had to spin on a dime to get it going. Rob Yos and Angela Abinales, HYOC veterans and fully plugged in young people, say opera on video was a challenge. Click here to see HYOC's Facebook page.

COVID's effect on choral societies

Belting out songs in close quarters has been flagged as a virus spreader in these pandemic times. What do you do if your love and life's work revolves around this now potentially deadly activity? If you're Susan Duprey, choral director of the Windward Choral Society and Kona Choral Society, you head up to Kilauea Military Camp and that's where we talked to her - preparing for a four-day hike on Mauna Loa. It's her 23rd trek up there. And this time, it's a biggie, in preparation for a grand new project. Both Kona and Windward Choral Societies welcome new members at their Fall 2020 Open House. You can contact the Kona Choral Society at and Windward Choral society at

Kapaemahu in Waikiki
Credit Noe Tanigawa

Kapaemahu: healing stones in Waikiki

Maybe you haven't been to Waikiki lately, that's why we decided to go. Educator, cultural practitioner Hinaleimoana Wong Kalu and I crossed Kalakaua at the Hyatt Regency, walking directly toward the Duke Kahanamoku statue. In the bright sunlight, we turned ewa and there, on a low platform, we encountered four massive stones. Kumu Hina says they're called Kapaemahu. The stones are there, still. Kapaemahu on Kuhio Beach, and a film/animation about their story is now touring international film festivals. Kumu Hina, ever the educator, narrates in Olelo Niihau, the only unbroken form of Hawaiian language. The Czech Republic, Atlanta and Ottawa film festivals are all coming up - with most entries streaming online. Click here for more info on the Kapaemahu film.

Celebrating coconuts

Think of Hawaii's skyline - outside Honolulu. What would we be without the lissome Hawaiian coconut palm, or niu? Impossible banners, niu say so much just by living, but they're also food, shelter, and raw materials for cultures around the world. That's what a new group of scientists, storytellers, agriculturalists, and social innovators are celebrating through Niu Now! Webinars. Indrajit Gunasekara coordinates the Uluniu Project, a community food movement based at the University of Hawaii West Oahu. In the last webinar, he tackled modern society's primary gripe against coconut palms head on, using examples form his homeland, Sri Lanka. Niu Now! happens on the fourth Sunday of the month at 11 a.m. The next webinar will be on Aug. 30. Click here to register and email Chelsie at MA‘O Organic Farms at if you have any questions. Click here to watch video from NiU NOW! Webinar 2. Click here to watch Pule Niu. Click here to see NiU NOW on Facebook.