For the past two weeks, Tabitha Smith has been camping in a spot dubbed “The Cage” at the Lihue Civic Center.
At least six tents are set up in “The Cage,” and the homeless there have three couches, several chairs, bikes, trash cans, and what appeared to be running water from two hoses.
Towels and clothing were hung from a black tarp held up by rope, and food and drinks were scattered on a table in the middle of the area.
It may not be a house, but it’s home for the nine people who reside there.
Every morning, Smith and the others rake the leaves, pick up litter and water the lawn fronting the Historic County Building.
Smith said county officials allow the group to camp at the center if they agree to clean the park and sidewalk.
“I think it’s a great thing as long as we continue to help out with the park, they’ll continue to help us out,” said Smith who has been homeless for about three months. “As long as we stay clean and not use drugs or fight or drink, (we can stay).”
However, Kauai County officials said an agreement was not made between the group and the county.
“There was a group of individuals that approached the parks director and asked for permission to care for the lawn fronting the Historic County Building,” said Paula Morikami, administrative assistant to the mayor. “This is in no way related to any agreement to stay at the facility.”
The center is in fact a public facility, Morikami said, and members of the public — including the group of nine who sets up camp there — are permitted to be on the premises.
“However, there are various laws and regulations that state that a person or a person’s belongings cannot block public access ways and sidewalks,” she said in an email.
The group at “The Cage” isn’t blocking public access and sidewalks, but Morikami said there are some people who have been causing problems around areas by the civic center.
“The police have been called to the area on several occasions regarding complaints of violence and drug use,” she said. “Employees have also complained of people urinating or defecating on the property — sometimes urinating on employees’ vehicles.”
In an effort to address the concerns of employees, the county hired private security to patrol the center.
“We’re not bad people,” Smith said. “We just can’t afford rent.”
Smith said the caged area is a blessing for the people living at the civic center, and they would not do anything illegal to jeopardize that privilege.
She said they will continue to clean the park and the surrounding area.
“We rake. We water the lawn. We sweep the sidewalks. We keep it clean. We pick up the rubbish,” Smith said. “They just allow us to stay.”