LIHUE — Signs hang ominously on trees in the Pua Loke Arboretum, across the street from the Kauai Economic Opportunity homeless shelter.
They were placed there by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, announcing, “As per the Board of Land and Natural Resource, no one can be in this area as of April 24, 2019.”
The date coincides with the state Department of Transportation’s notice to vacate the homeless encampment that rests on their land, directly behind the Haleko Shop Complex.
On Wednesday, DOT posted a “Notice to Remove Objects” signs similar to the ones at Pua Loke.
The signs formally gave notice people had 24 hours to remove their items, or they would be considered abandoned and would be “immediately removed.”
Thursday, a crowd of homeless waited outside the KEO shelter for a bed and food. Russel Baxter, who had been living at the encampment behind the Haleko complex, waited under his umbrella on the hot, sunny morning for his name to be called, hoping to have shelter for the night. The beds are given out on a first-come-, first-served basis.
“I kind of snapped out on somebody here (the KEO) and got fired,” Baxter said. “I started working back up with them recently and was told if I go to drug treatment and get the certification and drug treatment, I can come back into the shelter. So I did that. I’ve been clean and sober since and trying to get my life situated. I’m just tired of it. I’m tired of living like this.”
He adds he’s tired of losing stuff, things like not seeing his kids grow up and the relationships in his life.
“Now I’m regaining all that and I’m tired of sleeping on the street,” Baxter said. “They took a budget cut from 38 (rooms) to 19 because of some kind of funding.”
Acting County Housing Agency Director Steve Franco said: “The County of Kauai owns the land where the shelter sits and leases the improvements (shelter, transitional housing, offices) to KEO. The term of the lease is for 20 years effective June 8, 2005. In 2018, the county awarded KEO a Community Development Block Grant in the amount of $360,367 for the rehab of the KEO shelter. The rehab is still in process. Currently, there is no other funding from the county to KEO for the shelter.”
KEO Emergency Shelter Director Jason Honjiyo said, “We see it every day. It’s been there for about a year (the camp at Pua Loke). Department of Transportation is going to have them all leave next week (April 24). They’re doing this, they’re doing a bunch of sites.”
Honjiyo doesn’t know where the homeless will go, adding maybe they can stay with family or friends or get into the shelter, which is currently at capacity.
“All the service providers went out to do outreach,” Honjiyo said. “That’s why they posted the notices because it was a safety hazard to them.”
We need more inventory, just like everywhere else, Honjiyo added.
“We try our best,” he reiterated. “It’s too bad that we only have the one shelter.”
Back outside the shelter, Guendolyn Kalinski from Denver places ribbons on a tree. Kalinski is deaf and has been living at the arboretum for over a year. Her tent is one of 13 standing there during the day. At night, there will be more, she says.
“I’m decorating,” she says with a smile. “Yard art. Freestyle.”
Kalinski says she has talked to the police, who were there the day prior, and she was informed that anyone who remains on the DLNR Pua Loke Arboretum after the April 24 deadline will be removed. The sign posted in the arboretum says the area will be closed until further notice and to “please remove yourself and any personal possessions from this government-managed arboretum immediately. You will be legally cited if you remain on these premises as of April 24, 2019.”
Three resources are listed on a side sheet which is attached to a separate piece of paper, giving phone numbers for KEO, Mental Health Kokua and Hope, Help and Healing — Kauai.
“I lost my HUD housing, I lost my Social Security, they revoked my food stamps,” Kalinski said. “So I asked the man in charge of the police, he was the state of Hawaii police. Normally we get the Lihue police. Cited is ticketed, it’s not removed?”
A few blocks away at the Haleko homeless encampment, Edie Barsh strolls her bicycle to a power pole on Rice Street a few yards away from “home,” and locks it up, heading back inside the encampment. She says she feels safe there but will vacate to the Russian Fort after the deadline, and that she has been granted permission to stay there.
“Every night I stay here,” Barsh said, adding she suffered a traumatic brain injury some years back. “And the only reason I’ve stayed here is because I am tired.”
Barsh is grateful for the DOT allowing the camp to last as long as it has.
“I wish people are just appreciative of what they do have,” she said. “It’s a paradise here. Everything happens for a reason.”
Back at the Pua Loke Arboretum, volunteers handed out McDonald’s hamburgers to some of the homeless.
“Today is a very holy week, so maybe I remember then,” Centa Ragasa, with Immaculate Conception Church, said in between giving out hamburgers. “We give smiles. I go around, just me, and go to the County Building sometimes and give smiles at other places and for them.”
She hopes the island will do something about the situation.
“No one should be left behind,” Ragasa said. “There should be other needs that have to be met.”