- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) - Honolulu community leaders are discussing what to do about a large encampment of homeless people in the city’s Kakaako neighborhood where officials estimate there are 500 people living in tents and makeshift structures.

The Hawaii Community Development Authority manages development in the area and has received pleas from a nearby children’s museum, restaurant and medical school for help dealing with safety issues. A manager from a wedding planning company says a bride’s dress was spray painted by a homeless camper.

“The violence in the area has escalated to the point where no one is safe,” said Loretta Yijima, chairman of the Board of Directors of the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center, who described people urinating on the museum’s premises while children were doing an art project outside.

Safety issues in the area are threatening the future existence of the University of Hawaii’s medical school, which is located in Kakaako, said Virginia Hinshaw, former chancellor of the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

“We are not lacking in empathy for the homeless, however our patience is exhausted after many years of trying to fix it and watching this problem escalate in Kakaako,” Hinshaw said.

Tabitha Martin, who has lived in the Kakaako encampment for two years with her husband and three-year-old daughter, said the camp has grown rapidly in recent months since the city began sweeps in other parts of Honolulu as part of its bans on sitting and lying down in Waikiki and other areas. Attention to the camp was heightened during a recent reported attack on state Rep. Tom Brower that happened in the encampment while he was taking photos.

Martin said she and her husband try to police the area, but some things are out of their control.

“No matter where you’re from, you’re going to have some bad seeds,” Martin said in an interview. “We just try to make it livable for everyone.”

Martin said her family lived in an apartment until her husband had a heart attack and lost his job. She hopes they can stay in the encampment long enough to save up money to live in an apartment again.

“It could happen to anybody. Even your friends can be homeless,” Martin said. “We’re people too.”

The Hawaii Community Development Authority is a redevelopment agency, not a social service agency, so it has limited resources to address the problem, said Aedward Los Banos, asset manager for the agency. It also doesn’t have the authority to sweep the sidewalks, he said. But the authority could consider allowing tents outside the shelter or partner with service providers to consider expanding shelter services in the area, creating a child care facility or offering tutoring and mentoring for kids, he said.

A landscape architect who attended the meeting, Jennifer Appel, proposed a community of container homes with green roofs and gardens to be built in the area’s parking lots.

“We can turn anything ugly into something beautiful,” Appel said.

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