The face of Kaua‘i’s homeless people has changed.
In the past, the homeless were generally people from Kaua‘i who camped at county parks and moved from campsite to campsite to avoid eviction, in line with county park rules.
The homeless today are often from other states and other counties. They pitch tents in out-of-the-way places to avoid violence and drug use they say occur at some parks, and they forge strong bonds with each other, sharing food, cigarettes and sleeping bags.
Kaua‘i County has grappled with the homeless problem for decades, but the county’s ability to help, said some of those interviewed by The Garden Island yesterday, may be severely blunted in July when the Hawaii Superferry begins inter-island service.
Critics say the ferry service will only bring more homeless to Kaua‘i and exacerbate services — medical and food — that benefit the island’s homeless today.
The county has estimated the island’s homeless at about 500 people in past years. But that number does not include the homeless who are “one paycheck away” and live in tight quarters with relatives or friends.
The new homeless are more visible than their predecessors, gathering in greater numbers outside island stores and on benches in the park fronting the historic County Building.
Some have stashed enough money away to pay for rental storage space for their goods. Many carry their daily essentials in backpacks.
Mark Anthony Fischl, a 39-year-old homeless man who lives in Lihu‘e, wonders whether the government can provide sufficient services for the homeless once the Hawaii Superferry service begins.
“Once it comes, I will be worried about more homeless straining services that exists for the homeless on Kaua‘i now,” he said.
One solution would be to reauthorize millions in federal funds for the 16-plus-mile bicycle and pedestrian pathway from Ahukini to Anahola to build more housing for the homeless, Fischl said.
“The government should prioritize its projects,” he said. “With the money, they can build hundreds of 450-square-foot rooms for the homeless.”
Angelito Santos, a homeless man who moved from O‘ahu to Kaua‘i recently, said he expects his life will be turned around for the better whenever the new homeless shelter opens.
“It should have an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous program) and programs to prepare the homeless for job interviews and to train them for jobs,” Santos said.
Dane Kurihara, who likens bouncing around care homes and his participating in “independent living” homes on Kaua‘i for more than 20 years to homelessness, said he would like to see the Kaua‘i County Annex Building off Rice Street — where the homeless congregate in front of daily — turned into a shelter with rooms and cooking facilities for the homeless.
Mark Anthony Fischl
Fischl said he moved from Michigan to Kaua‘i in December 1999 to start a new life.
In his home state, he had been arrested on misdemeanor charges that included improper possession of a gun, driving with a suspended license, driving with no insurance, drug use and assault.
“I was caught with one gram of pot, but I didn’t rob banks nor did I rape any girls,” he said. “I have never been convicted of drug or theft charges. I am very proud of that.”
When he joined the Army in 1985, he said he was a 17-year-old student at East Detroit High School in Eastpointe, Mi.
He said with pride that he went through the same boot camp his father went through at Fort Knox, Ky. His father was a Vietnam-era soldier who was stationed in Korea.
“My father passed through Hawai‘i in 1966, and he fell in love with the place,” he said. “But it was too expensive for him to live here. I am living his dream today (by living on Kaua‘i).”
His father lives in Rochester Hills, Mi., today, said Fischl, who accompanied his father to Kaua‘i for the first time in 1979.
Mark Fischl’s life journey took him to Florida and Canada and finally to Kaua‘i, which he became enamored of after reading a guide book on it.
“This is one of the most beautiful islands in the world.” he said. “It was like a godsend coming here.”
His first “home” was Nonou Mountain, also known as Sleeping Giant, in Wailua.
“I stayed there a year ( in 2000),” he said. “The community up there knew I was a homeless man and they didn’t mind as long as I took out the garbage.”
Of the eight years he has lived in Hawai‘i, 6 1/2 of those years have been spent living on the streets, he said.
He lived in government-subsidized housing on Kaua‘i for three to four months and then about a year or more on O‘ahu under similar circumstances. He survives on Social Security benefits.
A typical day for him is taking a morning shower at Vidinha Stadium and working at odd jobs he can find.
At night, he sleeps in a tent at a location in Lihu‘e he would not disclose.
“I am trying to keep my life simple, he said. “I have a bus (system) to use. I do have a little drinking problem. But I love living here.”
But he said he won’t live at the new emergency shelter unless there is adequate security there. Thefts occur when people sleep at shelters, he said.
Fischl said he also won’t live at Hanama‘ulu Beach Park, traditionally where the homeless stay because it is near stores in Lihu‘e, because “they sell ice (crystal methamphetamine) down there.”
He said he also likes living on Kaua‘i because the “police don’t bother me, he said.
”I really like the cops because they are fair, knowledgeable about the law, reasonable, caring and kind,” he said. “I also like it here because the people here are friendly.
Santos, 46, was born in the Philippines and later moved to Seattle, Wash., and then to Alaska, where he worked on fishing boats for 12 years.
He lived as a homeless person in California for a time, but he found life at one shelter unbearable. “I would stay at shelters where people steal your stuff and you get one-minute showers where they hose you down like an animal.”
In 2000, he traveled to New York, where he got a job as a cook. Wanting to see what life was like in the tropics, he moved to Hawai‘i in 2002.
Because money was an issue, he lived on the beach in Wai‘anae on O‘ahu and then moved to a homeless shelter in Chinatown Honolulu that was operated by the city.
What he hoped would be something positive turned out to be something negative.
“People told me I could lock my stuff in the closet and that they would be the only ones with the key,” he said. “And I locked my stuff, and the next day, all my stuff was gone.”
Santos said when he complained, the shelter manager “kicked me out.”
“From that point on, I said I would not stay at any shelter,” he said. Life for him for now is “staying on the streets, on the beach, or any safe place I could find,” Santos said.
In all, Santos has lived on the streets in the Mainland and in Hawai‘i for seven years. He said he has been able to avoid trouble because he is a martial arts expert.
He also has to take medication to correct a chemical imbalance.
In spite of his hardships, Santo said he hopes Kaua‘i makes it right for him.
“I came here in March because the people here are more mellow,” he said.
And he said he would stay at the new homeless shelter in Hanapepe, when it opens, but only under certain conditions.
“They should have police watching the place, and lockers should be given to the people,” he said.
Kurihara, 53, moved from the Big Island to Kaua‘i in the early 1980s and has stayed at care homes and in “independent living” homes for 20-plus years, a way of living, he said, that never gave him a sense of roots.
“I was bouncing around a lot, But I was never homeless,” he said.
His closest scrape with homelessness came recently when he left a home in Anahola because the other occupant “had gotten too religious.”
He said the state court system put him under its jurisdiction when he could no longer take care of his finances and life.
Most recently, he moved into a home in Lihu‘e through the Mental Health Kokua program, which helps individuals achieve independent living.
He spends time with the homeless, including Fischl, by the county annex building because he sympathizes with their plight.
“I share my cigarettes, my food,” he said. “I hope government can help them out. Give them a place which they can call home.”
• Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or email@example.com.