- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 29, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) - Honolulu officials say they’re planning to sweep a homeless encampment in Kakaako within the next month.

The Honolulu Police Department is encouraging the cleanup for safety reasons, said Jesse Broder Van Dyke, spokesman for Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

“We don’t have any specific dates or plans at this point, but we’ve been meeting with the state and others on a plan to move forward,” Broder Van Dyke said. “It’s reached the point where continuing to wait indefinitely is not an option.”

The plan as it’s shaping up would include city and state law enforcement officers clearing the camp, starting with the outer streets that are less populated and gradually working toward the more populated streets behind the Children’s Discovery Center, Broder Van Dyke said. Ample notice will be given before law enforcement officers clear different sections of the camp, Caldwell said.

City and state officials declined to give a current number of people living in tents and makeshift structures in Kakaako, but they had previously estimated that about 500 people could be living there.

The camp has grown since the city banned sitting and lying down in Waikiki and other districts, which advocates for the homeless say has pushed people into the Kakaako camp. Caldwell announced in May that he was suspending sweeps of the camp, and many homeless people came to think of the area as a safe place to pitch a tent.

On Monday, Gov. David Ige announced that a new team of city, state and federal representatives are working together to tackle the problem of homelessness. He said the team was working together to identify parcels of land that could be used to provide temporary shelter.

Asked when Kakaako would be cleaned up, Ige said, “You know, there’s no magic answer. There’s no deadline.”

He added, “Kakaako will not be cleaned up until there’s a place for the homeless people to go to.”

Ige’s office clarified Wednesday that the governor wasn’t saying that he doesn’t support routine efforts to clear the camp. Ige meant that the homelessness problem in Kakaako won’t be completely resolved until there’s a place for people to go, his spokesman, Jodi Leong, said in an email.

Public health officers counted 190 tents or structures in the camp as of Tuesday, which is triple the number observed in September, said Scott Morishige, executive director of PHOCUSED, an organization that serves homeless people and other vulnerable populations.

“To begin the enforcement without a clear plan in place only further destabilizes the community, and I think it will exacerbate a situation that’s been growing over time,” Morishige said.

Michelle Yu, spokeswoman for the Honolulu Police Department, declined to give details about the enforcement plans, but said officers have noticed an increasing number of residents in the camp.

“Chief (Louis) Kealoha, like many others in the community, is concerned about the homeless campsites in Kakaako and elsewhere,” Yu said in an emailed statement. “It’s HPD’s position that homelessness is a complex social issue, and any solutions will require the coordination of city and state services.”

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