HANAMAULU — For years, Tina Higashi feared going to Hanamaulu Beach Park.
Worries about crime and a homeless camp, she said, kept her away.
But she was pleased that the county, in its recent attempt to make the park more family friendly, didn’t just go in and chase people away, but responded in a humanitarian way with a homeless services team.
“I just wanted to commend the county’s response to the issues down at Hanamaulu Park,” Higashi said. “I think that you guys have responded to a sad situation really well.”
Around 80 people attended a meeting Thursday at the King Kaumualii School meeting on the overnight closing of their historic, isolated jewel just down the hill from Hanamaulu Town.
Deputy Chief of Police Michael Contrades said the decision was necessary with the substantial increase and severity of crime in the park. Some people were using public facilities and parking while taking up permanent residence at a homeless camp on nearby private property. This presence was also a source of crime and discouraging visitors, he said.
“The end result is not just about enforcement,” Contrades said. “Homelessness is an issue that we all have to deal with and we have to do our best to assist them.”
Anyone present in the park during closing hours will be asked to leave and arrested only if they do not comply, Contrades said. Violators will be charged with trespassing in a public park — a petty misdemeanor offense.
“This is about changing behavior,” he said. “People feel so comfortable in the park that they stay overnight and make it their home.”
Members of the homeless advocacy group Voices of Kauai said their concern was that in taking away locations for the homeless, the county should help to provide safe alternatives, including using closed businesses as overnight shelters.
“We have an opportunity to set an example for the other islands,” said Kuulei Nani McTeague.
Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho Jr. said a local church recently welcomed two homeless families to park vehicles overnight on their property. They use the facilities and electricity with a collective of churches helping to support the cost.
This is one example of how churches and the private sector can make a difference for people until they find transitional housing, Carvalho said.
There are exceptions to the overnight closing rule.
County Parks and Recreation Director Lenny Rapozo said Friday that the nature of subsistence fishing allows for arrangements with parks, should the need arise, for known Hanamaulu fishermen who have used this area all of their lives to have access to retrieve or launch a vessel.
“As you know fishing is cultural subsistence activity that is dependent by the moon, tides, wind, and needs,” he said. “So to put a time constraint would not be prudent.”
Some residents want to see the demolition of the pavilion while others want it moved or preserved in place.
County Deputy Director of Parks and Recreation Ian Costa said the county wants to tear the pavilion down but the Department of Land and Natural Resources would need to approve any activity with the structure that is now on the state Historic Inventory List. Special permits are also necessary for a park in a flood zone and within the state conservation district, he said.
Yasu Morikawa has worked on cleanup efforts for more than 20 years, and was raised within earshot of the park. What happens there now upsets him and he welcomed efforts to eliminate criminal activity.
“I hate to offend because I know I had my humbug days but this is really bad and there is a lot of people that I don’t even know down there,” he said. “They are from other places and we don’t know their backgrounds and what kind of stuff they do, or if they are burglars or rapers.”
Other residents wanted to know if overnight closing of Hanamaulu Beach Park is a model for all parks, or if it would just chase the crime to other parks as they believe happened with Nawiliwili.
Lee Wilke said he lives at the base of the park and welcomed the overnight closing to help control the drug activity and noise. With only one road coming into the park, his concern now is that people would just park on the road outside the park and walk inside.
“All these people are going to be coming down and turning around at the base of the park and then parking on the street,” Wilke said.
Contrades said the police would maintain a presence and would prevent people from going there at night. The mayor added that signage and reflective markings would let people know the park is closed overnight.
Hanamaulu Community Association President Eddie Sarita said he wanted to know if closing all parks overnight would help with crime prevention.
Carvalho said this park is unlike any other and the county took this step with support from the community association as preferable to just coming in and shutting it down. Other parks will be closely monitored, he said, and the goal is to have the community use this park again for pavilion reservations, gatherings and functions.
A canoe club once functioned here, and Carvalho said he would like to see it return. The Kauai Praise Team of area pastors has already expressed interest in using the pavilion for their Thursday morning meeting.
“That can happen now when people aren’t afraid to go there,” he said. “This is a chance to really bring back this park — just one step at a time.”