A plan by members of Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste’s administration to establish fee-based camping to Lydgate Park in Wailua could instead be taken to the next level by using the site as a temporary homeless shelter, a government watchdog recommended to members of the Kaua’i County Council Thursday.
During a council meeting at the historic County Building, Wailua Homesteads resident Glenn Mickens said camping at the park in the past has been a dangerous proposition due to unchecked use of drugs and alcohol, and that his idea has more merit.
“Just look out the door of this county building and see the homeless people that are struggling to survive,” Mickens said. “It should really embarrass this administration and this council.”
Baptiste already has taken steps to have constructed the island’s first homeless shelter, at the site of the old Lihue Grammar School, located by the headquarters of Kauai Economic Opportunity Inc. in Lihu’e.
With governmental leaders’ support, KEO officials would manage the new facility. Although the project can only accommodate a small number of homeless at this time, government and KEO leaders hail it as a first step toward helping more homeless in the future.
More than 500 folks have been identified by county officials as being homeless, but that number doesn’t include what has been described as the “hidden homeless,” which could number into the thousands.
They are the folks who can’t afford high rents, don’t own their own homes, and must “stack up” in homes of relatives and family members, county officials have said.
In written testimony on the campground proposal, Mickens said it is his belief that some homeless folks have already taken up residence at the site of the new campground.
Members of the Baptiste administration have paid funds for the construction of the campsites, and are seeking council members’ approval of an ordinance that would officially establish the campground, and to assess fees.
Some council members have privately bristled at the notion that Baptiste had set up the project without first getting their approval.
The legislators have previously raised questions over whether or not there are sufficient funds and manpower to maintain campsites at the park.
Baptiste has said, however, that the project has been spurred on by public enthusiasm and support for it, and that he hopes council members move along in that spirit.
Mickens said the project is doomed because efforts to use land at Lydgate Park for camping have failed in the past due to unchecked use of drugs and alcohol at the park.
“There is no reason to believe that they won’t be a failure again,” Mickens wrote in testimony sent to the council.
Asking county personnel to monitor drug and alcohol use would put their lives in jeopardy, Mickens indicated.
“If our park caretakers are being asked to be enforcement people for permitting or other violations (like drugs or other illegal activities), then I am strong against that,” Mickens wrote.
The county workers who take care of Lydgate Park are already doing an “excellent job of maintaining the park,” he said.
And as their workload increases due to more use of Lydgate Park facilities, the workers “don’t need to be doing enforcement work,” he said.
The park plan calls for barbecue pits, picnic tables, parking, and security programs.
A first for the county will be three campsites that will be in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and will be geared for the physically-challenged, Baptiste said.
Kauai Builders leaders received a $2.7-million contract to build a comfort station, park-maintenance facility, 2.4 miles of the bike and pedestrian paths, raised ADA campsites, and some signs, according to county officials.
Twenty seven of the 31 camp-sites will have tables, a level pad for a tent and a barbecue, and can accommodate up to five people for each 10-foot-by-10-foot site, and 10 people for each 20-foot-by-20-foot site.
The project also proposes a large tent site to accommodate up to 200 campers, which would include exclusive use of a camp-ground pavilion.
The entire project includes the construction of comfort stations with private showers, parking stalls by the campsites, and unobstructed views, county officials said.
Plans also call for a $5-per-day assessment for state residents for an individual campsite; a $75-per-day assessment for a group camping site for residents, a $25-per-day assessment for a campsite for non-residents; and a $150-per-day assessment for a group-camping site for non-residents.
Kaua’i County is the only county in the state whose leaders do not charge for camping at county parks, Baptiste has said.
The new campsites will be open for use five days a week, leaving two other days open for maintenance, Baptiste has said. Campers can use campsites at county parks for no more than a total of 60 days each year.
Kaua’i Police Department officials have cited manpower shortages in recent years, partly due to officers retiring or those taking positions with other law enforcement agencies in Hawai’i or in the Mainland.
But KPD leaders have agreed to send patrol cars to monitor activities at the new campsite, Baptiste has said.
The project has been driven by the community, Baptiste said, adding that residents came up with suggestions that were incorporated into the plans for the new project.
Residents and representatives from the Kapaa Business Association and neighboring properties, including Aloha Beach Resort-Kauai, Kaha Lani condominiums and the Wailua Golf Course, which is also owned by the county, discussed what they would like to see for the campground project, Baptiste has said.
- Lester Chang, staff writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or firstname.lastname@example.org