In January, Loretta Yajima, board chairwoman of the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center warned the center may be forced to close due to drugs, filth and violence nearby in Kaka‘ako Makai. Sweeps of the homeless continue, but she says conditions have improved and the center will hold its popular Keiki Swap Meet Saturday, June 15, in the park.
It was quiet as an urban park can be last Saturday when volunteers gathered under a banyan at Kaka‘ako Makai park for a weekly clean up.
Last December, the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center celebrated its 20th anniversary. Loretta Yajima says at that point, conditions with homeless dwellings around the Center had reached a crisis point. Then something happened.
“There was a group of those in the encampments who said, 'We’d really like to help you by doing some clean up in the area.' They were very sincere and apologetic, too, about the trash and litter and graffiti and in the area.”
Aura Reyes, homeless until recently, is a certified nurse’s aide.
”Our intentions were never to do anything that hindered the kids. I would get so mad if I was down here,” said Reyes.
Reyes is a member of Ka Po‘e o Kaka‘ako (the People of Kaka‘ako), a hui of the homeless who have stepped forward this year, attending neighborhood board meetings, and reaching out to officials and nearby businesses.
"Ever since then, they have been cleaning up the area, not just around the center but throughout the park area,” Yajima said.
“That‘s been my experience, I can’t make gross generalizations, but the people I have met have been really wonderful and responsive.”
Ka Po‘e o Kaka‘ako is organizing an alternative community for the homeless—more like the traditional Hawaiian kauhale system, which was a homestead with separate structures for eating, cooking, sleeping, etc. It’s the kind of organization that arose at the Pu‘uhonua o Wai‘anae homeless encampment, where up to 300 pepople are involved. Two anonymous private donors have offered $300 thousand dollars to the project, if the camp can match those funds. Crowdsourcing for funds is underway, and Pu'uhonua o Wai'anae leaders are now moving to acquire land for a kauhale-style village on the westside.
Back in Kaka‘ako, Reyes says some community members began coming around and talking to folks in the area.
“Alani, James, Cathy, they came to Mother Waldron last year, beginning of last year. They had the talk story, they would come, whoever was out there, they wanted to talk story, why were people not leaving.”
‘Alani Apio, James Koshiba, and Cathy Kawano-Ching are with a community group called Hui Aloha, which has been acting as a liaison between O‘ahu homeless communities.
In Kaka‘ako, the talk stories created bonds that the homeless say could be the basis for a kauhale-style living alternative in the future, if the community can stay together.
For now, Yajima says, the cleanups have improved conditions for the Children’s Discovery Center.
“We hope they have found an area they can build their community around. That’s what we’re hoping for.”