The City and County of Honolulu is clearing large amounts of debris from Kea'au Beach Park and conducting enforcement activity to remove homeless encampments from the space.
The effort is a partnership between city departments, including police, community members and organziations to clear the undeveloped parkland for public use.
The city estimated that there were about 10 homeless encampments in the area.
Nathan Serota, a spokesperson from the Department of Parks and Recreation explained that before and during the enforcement, the city partnered with Kealahou West Oahu for outreach efforts.
“We call it our compassionate disruption,” he said. “We do want to have the human element side and recognize that these are human beings. . . we want to get them to those services to help them get them off the streets, but at the same time we do need to maintain these undeveloped park lands especially in some of the cases where a lot of this debris is posing an environmental hazard.”
Wookie Kim, a staff attorney at the Hawaii American Civil Liberties Union explained that these types of enforcement efforts can negatively impact the homeless population.
“These sweeps risk seriously harming people who are houseless because the city and county might be throwing away things that people need to cook clean sleep and survive,” he said.
Serota said that is why the city tries to give as much notice as possible before the enforcement action—so that those affected will know ahead of time that the city will be conducting mandated cleanup efforts.
In a statement, the city estimated that there are 38 automobiles, two boats, a jet ski, dozens of tires, mattresses, pallets and other inoperable machinery that they will be working to clear.
Serota explained that after the enforcement efforts are completed, the city is relying on the community to use the park—which should stop illegal activity from reoccurring.
“We can come in, and do these cleanups, and provide these services to those experiencing homelessness, but unless the community activates the area in a positive manner following this, the illegal elements might come back,” he said.
Kim noted that it is a misconception that the homeless population is solely responsible for the trash in public spaces.
“The ACLU is not saying and has never said don’t clean up the beach,” he said. “What we’re saying is . . . make sure you’re not demonizing one segment of the community as being the only cause of illegal dumping which is a serious problem that our community collectively faces.”
Serota explained that the city does not want to target a particular population or demographic for the vandalism that occurs in public places.
“In the case of the enforcement on the West side some of the believed dumping ground might have not been homeless people,” he said. “A lot of the times it’s the broken window theory, people see trash dumped in a specific location they may think it’s alright to continue dumping trash illegally there.”
Serota emphasized that there are services available to help deal with trash, particularly abandoned automobiles
“Customer service department has a free program that if you have a car that’s no longer in service and you want to get rid of it, they’ll get rid of it for you,” he said. “Of course you’ll have to prove ownership, but we’d rather have people disposing of it properly.”
Work is scheduled to continue through Friday.