‘Where am I gonna go’

  • The county’s rubbish bins at Salt Pond were overflowing Thursday afternoon. The bathroom toilets were dirty too, and there is no soap for the sinks.

  • Caleb Loehrer / The Garden Island

    Kalo has been planted by people who live at and maintain Salt Pond Beach Park in Hanapepe.

  • Caleb Loehrer / The Garden Island

    Jenell Fresquez lives at Lucy Wright Park in Waimea. She has been ticketed 38 times since last December for camping without a permit, which she can only get for two months out of the year.

  • Caleb Loehrer / The Garden Island

    An upside-down Hawaiian flag flies with the Hanapepe salt pans in the background.

LIHUE — For hundreds of people on Kauai it is illegal to sleep at night for 10 months out of the year.

Laws prohibiting unpermitted camping are enforced by county park rangers during frequent early morning raids at public spaces and ignored by prosecuting attorneys, who refuse to pursue cases against people whose only crime is not living in a house.

Kauai County codes require anyone who camps on any public park between 5 p.m. and 10 a.m. to get a permit from the Department of Parks and Recreation, but the statute limits the number of days to 60 a year.

It is against the law to sleep in a car overnight anywhere on Kauai other than the public parks, and the county has no temporary housing facility, leaving a handful of local church organizations and nonprofits to pick up the slack.

A recent survey estimated roughly 350 people on Kauai regularly sleep outdoors, and that number is almost certainly low, according to Pastor Darryl Kua of Westside Christian Center, who participated in the count and said the published figures probably represent only half of the actual amount of people on the island who live in parks, on beaches or in hidden forest camps.

Court records show that Kauai County park rangers have issued 132 citations for unpermitted camping at public parks since September alone, almost exclusively to lifetime or long-time island residents with no registered physical address.

More than half of those tickets were given to one of only six people, all of whom live in county parks on the Westside and say rangers have been intentionally targeting and harassing them for months.

Lucy Wright Park

In the 10-week period between Sept. 5 and Nov. 19, the residents of Lucy Wright Park in Waimea were cited at least 68 times for illegal camping.

Six of those went to Jenell Fresquez, a 56-year-old woman who has been on the island for years. Fresquez has been given 38 tickets for camping without a permit in the last year, all of which require mandatory court appearances, which she struggled to find time for in between doctor appointments for her husband’s open-heart surgery. He died three months ago.

Her neighbor, Theresa Rosare, 57, got a dozen tickets for unpermitted camping in September and October alone and has been cited 31 times so far in 2019. Roxanne Yong and her boyfriend Milton Carter, also Lucy Wright Park residents, were ticketed over 120 times in the past year, either for “illegal camping” or “unauthorized structure.”

With the exception of Carter, who is disabled and wheelchair-bound, none of them have criminal records outside of the camping citations.

“They trying to get me out of the park, but honestly, where am I gonna go with a family and a boyfriend who’s handicapped?” Yong said. “And, truthfully, if I was a park ranger, I would not have the heart to give anybody a ticket.”

“Imagine we trading shoes one day,” Yong told a park ranger one morning, after he gave her a ticket. “I go home to your home, and you go to mine. You wake up every morning to Kalani and my children; I wake up to your family. You know, I’ll be appreciative more than you would be appreciative of mine, because honestly, it’s a hard job.”

Salt Pond Beach Park

About a month ago, park rangers moved on to other parks around the island, rousting people from tents and cars in the dark — the time written on most citations is between 4:45 and 6:30 a.m. — at county beach parks in Wailua, Kapaa, Anahola, Anini and others. But Salt Pond residents got the most attention.

Joseph Kaneapua, who lives at Salt Pond with his family, has been cited six times in the past month for not having a camping permit or refusing to take down his tent during park-maintenance days. Except for a misdemeanor from 2003, he, too, has no criminal record.

Kaneapua’s four children were left to fend for themselves on Dec. 11, when Kaneapua was arrested for having his tent up during Salt Pond Beach Park’s scheduled maintenance hours. His son shook him awake at 5 a.m., saying, “Daddy! Police are outside!”

Kamuela Gomes got arrested that morning at Salt Pond as well. He was also cited a half dozen times since mid-November for the same reasons. Gomes has no prior convictions either, but has been in and out of court on a regular basis in the past four years, challenging the legal rights of large-scale real estate developers in the state appellate court.

Gomes said he and hundreds of other Native Hawaiians on Kauai without an American-style home wouldn’t be living on the beach if their land hadn’t been stolen from them, an opinion that is gaining increasing support from international political activists and experts.

United Nations Independent Expert Alfred-Maurice de Zayas sent an open letter last year to the Hawaii State Judiciary, calling for an end to “the wrongful taking of private lands” in the Hawaiian Islands, which he described as “a nation-state that is under a strange form of occupation by the United States resulting from an illegal military occupation and a fraudulent annexation.”

“It’s an uncomfortable truth for many, because they come here, buy something that’s so expensive, and they actually don’t own it,” Gomes said. “You know what this our country is right now? It’s a pirate’s paradise.”

Park maintenance

For guys like Lincoln Niau the concern is a practical and immediate one. Niau has managed to avoid getting ticketed by the rangers, but county policies restricting access to the parks remain a constant burden.

The Parks and Recreation Department closes all public parks for 26 hours each week from 10 a.m. to noon the following day for maintenance. At Salt Pond, the closure period starts on Tuesday morning. The locals call it “breakdown day.”

During that time, Niau has to pack his family’s possessions into a car and find a place to stay, all the while taking care of his three young children and holding down a job.

“Why we have to set up on Wednesday at 12? I mean, they come and they break down on Tuesday,” he said. “Before, we used to set up camp in the morning, but now on Wednesday we set up at 12, at noon — just like the whole day wasted!”

According to county officials, park maintenance on breakdown day consists of “mowing and weed-whacking, trimming of hedges and additional trash and debris pick-up,” but Niau said county workers normally spend less than an hour doing the work and never really complete the job anyway.

“Get little rubbish there, little rubbish here. They don’t see it cause it’s dark when they come. But I got one dustpan and rake inside of my car to pick up rubbish. Me and this guy right here,” he said, placing a hand on top of his 3-year-old son’s head. “We pick up the rubbish.”

On Wednesday morning, after county workers completed a half hour of maintenance that included no mowing, no weed-whacking, no trimming of hedges and left the bathroom toilets dirty, Niau and his son Legend walked up and down the beach and lawn area picking up trash while they waited for noon to come so they could set up their home.

“I been down here a long, long time,” Niau said. “This is where I was where I was born and raised right here. This waters, this whole beach, this is like my backyard. My dad used to take care of this park.”

The courts

The hundreds of illegal camping citations issued this year have resulted in few convictions or fines because county prosecutors refuse to pursue charges, according to Kauai County Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar, who said he is “fundamentally opposed” to the premise that it is a crime not to own a house.

“Using the criminal courts to kick people, mostly locals, who are already down isn’t helping anything,” Kollar said Thursday. “They can’t get to court, they can’t pay the fines, and so they get stuck in a spiral they can’t get out of. Homelessness is a community problem we cannot cite our way out of.”

A Fifth Circuit judge dismissed 15 cases set for arraignment on Wednesday at the request of prosecutors, who referenced a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision not to revive a law barring people without a house from sleeping outdoors.

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to review a lower-court ruling that “the Eighth Amendment prohibits the state from punishing an involuntary act or condition if it is the unavoidable consequence of one’s status or being.”

“As long as there is no option of sleeping indoors,” a judge wrote in the Ninth Circuit Court decision, “the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.”

Kollar’s deputy prosecutors have had nearly 50 such cases thrown out since September, but the policy has done little to stem the tide, as county park rangers continue to issue the citations on such a regular basis that the courts can’t get rid of them fast enough. Another 50 are scheduled for court dates in coming months

A solution

There are virtually no government services, housing or otherwise, for the portion of Kauai’s population without a home.

County public information officials refused to allow TGI to interview or communicate directly with Parks and Recreation Director Patrick Porter, insisting all inquiries be sent via email through a spokesperson, who sent a brief response that failed to address most of TGI’s questions.

Native Hawaiian activists like Gomes say that the only long-term solution is to return the land to its rightful owners.

“The state needs to reconcile with the Native Hawaiians, and begin to follow their own laws,” he said. “This is our country, and we need to act like it.”

In the meantime, Lucy Wright Park resident Roxanne Yong and others like her are proposing a fix that wouldn’t cost a dime, could be implemented tomorrow, and would free up the time and resources of the parks department, the prosecuting attorneys office and the judiciary.

“What should they do?” Yong asked. “Just give this park to the people.”

Her sentiments were echoed by dozens of people living at parks on the Westside, who do not understand why county officials cannot simply recognize that these public places are their homes.

“They’re not thinking in terms of homelessness,” Pastor Kua said of county policymakers. “The reality is they’re going to have to rethink their process.”

Kua has spent years working with the residents of Lucy Wright Park and hundreds of others who visit the church’s food pantry. He said the simplest solution may be the best one.

“The ones that I’ve talked to want to get off the beach, but there’s no real option for them,” Kua said. “There’s no real harm or foul if you let them just stay there.”


Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cloehrer@thegardenisland.com.

  1. harry oyama December 22, 2019 4:42 am Reply

    Why should it be illegal to sleep in your own vehicle since it is private property and you already paid taxes to drive it?

    Since when it is illegal to be homeless and just another bullying law that actually violates one’s Constitution for existing. Those that enforce such laws are inhuman with total disregard for the needy and desperate that unfortunately are not rich enough to rent or live in their own home, so they live outside and yet the State and County consider such status as “illegal”.

    Those that own more than one home and profits from such investments, should be forced to rent to these homeless backed by section 8 funding from the State instead of harrassing them.

    1. Tooindependent December 24, 2019 7:57 pm Reply

      “Be forced to rent to homeless”…. Here is a great idea for yah Harry… F.O.A.D.H.O.

  2. Rev Dr. Malama December 22, 2019 7:01 am Reply

    Mahalo Ke Akua for giving us a voice in the wilderness of transition…… we are all children of god, a family of Hawai’ian Kingdom subjects that are truly protected persons!
    Open up your land and house to a person in need and you are blessed for eternity…. even a day, a meal, a hot shower or two.
    Aloha from one who knows how it feels to be a stranger in my own land.

  3. Eric Greenfield December 22, 2019 7:45 am Reply

    Nice opening sentence. Write much? Pretty sure it’s ok to sleep at night 10 months a year. Are you guys hiring editors? Seriously what kind of journalist writes an opening sentence like that.

    1. Ugh December 23, 2019 12:53 pm Reply

      …or perhaps Eric could use some reading comprehension lessons.

  4. John Kaneholani December 22, 2019 7:58 am Reply

    Pastor Kua, thank you for your compassionate heart to help our lahui. Your work will not go unnoticed.

  5. KauaiFarmMan December 22, 2019 9:48 am Reply

    Create shelters and start enforcing the law. Beaches and parks are public space to be enjoyed by all. The reality is most beaches and parks are inhabited by unsavory characters and drug addicts. Go to any public restroom at sunrise and bums are just sitting there under the awnings creating an unpleasant environment. This is unfair to all the hardworking tax paying citizens that pay for these facilities. The harsh reality is regardless of what unlawful actions have taken place in the past the rule of modern law and economics will never alllow Hawaii to be ceded by the USA. 95% of current inhabitants would never vote for it as all the money and infrastructure that exists because of federal control would disappear and we’ll all be living at the beach.

  6. LTEreader December 22, 2019 9:51 am Reply

    “Just give this park to the people.” Agreed! I don’t have much compassion for people who just come here to live in la-la land and collect welfare, but if someone is born and/or raised here they deserve better!
    Many years ago, while backpacking through Europe, I saw a huge park right in the center of Amsterdam, that they designated a portion of for the homeless. They had bathrooms (with showers), lockers where they could safely contain their belongings, and foot patrol police that would come by every so often. It was all very respectfully handled. The homeless were grateful so kept this area of the park spotless. If they were too loud after 10pm they were given one warning. If it continued they had to leave. I don’t know if they still do this, but I saw how well it worked at a time when it was desperately needed. Kauai needs to do more than shuffle these people around like they don’t matter > because they do!

  7. Gordo December 22, 2019 11:12 am Reply

    If the prosecutor won’t charge them, stop giving them tickets! Create a “homeless permit” and allow them to live without being distressed! Come on, people! Where’s the compassion? Justin Kollar seems to have some, so let’s stop this nonsense!

    1. CommonSenseish December 23, 2019 12:38 pm Reply

      Homeless Permit? How about these people get jobs or the necessary help to get established. The homeless people are a big reason why these parks are dirty and dangerous and allowing them to live there, is ridiculous. They start off clean and respectful and then 1-2 months down the line they claimed areas, have abandoned vehicles, trash everywhere.

  8. billyjoebob December 22, 2019 12:17 pm Reply

    Best of success with ” you stole my land you owe me a place to live ” I see nothing wrong with setting up areas for permanent campers to live, but they must take care of their living area.
    I don’t see the local government ever going all out and doing this, without so many rules, regulations and studies that it will never come to fruition.

  9. LTEreader December 23, 2019 8:37 am Reply

    Eric Greenfield:
    Read the entire article > You can only get camping permits for 60 nights per year + it’s illegal to sleep in your car = “For hundreds of people on Kauai it is illegal to sleep at night for 10 months out of the year.” Makes perfect sense = someone owes the writer an apology.

  10. Neal Raj Mathur December 23, 2019 9:19 am Reply

    what about the splintered paddle law? didn’t that make it into the state constitution? King Kamehameha I in 1797: The law, “Let every elderly person, woman and child lie by the roadside in safety,”

    1. Shelly December 23, 2019 1:22 pm Reply

      I appreciate this article – helped me to have a better understanding, I like the Amsterdam option, Find an appropriate place to allow persons to live temporarily

  11. CommonSenseish December 23, 2019 12:44 pm Reply

    “What should they do?” Yong asked. “Just give this park to the people.”

    Her sentiments were echoed by dozens of people living at parks on the Westside, who do not understand why county officials cannot simply recognize that these public places are their homes.

    ARE YOU SERIOUS?! I work 2 jobs pay my taxes, rent, bills, etc with no help, and you want to leech on whatever freebies you get now PLUS get free comfortable living?!!

  12. Haveaheart December 24, 2019 10:43 am Reply

    Some of these people do have jobs, and children, and legal cars. Judge not that you be not judged. Kaua’i does need to find a workable solution. The state and county need to do more than require developers to build meager numbers of “affordable housing units”, which are NOT AFFORDABLE!! Rent control and rent ceiling legislation would combat the greed of developers and property owners. The county purchases a few houses every year with federal funds that are then rented out as “affordable.” The State drags its feet on raising minimum wage to a living wage. As an employer, it does make it harder on our family business, and we also are required to provide medical insurance. But we value these workers like they are family. WE must all value those who are our neighbors and those less fortunate. Merry Christimas, Happy Hanukah, Kwanzaa, and Peace on Earth. Park Rangers…bah humbug!!

    1. Garsie Laborte January 16, 2020 12:19 pm Reply

      If they want to keep living at the park. There need to have some rules like drug test. Cuz honestly I know the folks at Lucy Wright park and they all do drugs and just want free stuff when they already collecting free stuff from the government as it is. It’s not fair to just give the park to people when later in the long run they going make it all pilau again.

  13. Makani B. Howard January 6, 2020 9:25 am Reply

    How about move to the mainland where it is cheaper?

    1. RevW January 20, 2020 11:16 am Reply

      : M Howard – LOL. You haven’t been to any urban areas with homeless populations on the mainland recently, have you? Cheaper? Really?

  14. RevW January 20, 2020 11:13 am Reply

    Why can’t the County take undeveloped public land and create “interim residence areas” – essentially special use camping locations – similar to what is done on the mainland in some States? Don’t say there isn’t any such land “because it’s Hawaii”, please. In HI, there seem to be several groups of homeless, one of which is displaced long term residents. That’s different from those who moved to HI with no resources on the assumption that they could live here for free because.. Hawaii! People who have lived here, were born here, are registered to vote here and who have income are not freeloaders. They are not ‘druggies’ or any of the other homeless groups perceived by the public as “trash”. They aren’t a danger to anything except people’s preconceived concepts of people who can’t AFFORD TO rent a place to live.

    Public parks aren’t a good solution, because there is built in conflict between all the groups who use those parks, and with ordinance enforcement. Day use visitors are uncomfortable with the presence of ‘residents’. ‘Residents’ are subject to ongoing conflicts with enforcement because of that. But **separate** areas for day use visitors and all the categories of homeless would not have that problem.

    If the Big Island can come up with solutions – like affordable / subsidized housing for homeless, why can’t Kauai? If the Count legal system refuses to prosecute for ‘violations’ in this, doesn’t that communicate ANYTHING to everybody charged with ‘running’ Kauai?

  15. WestsideResident January 25, 2020 9:46 pm Reply

    Why have parks if our children can’t use them????????????

    Parks are jot homeless shelters.

  16. alex February 21, 2020 10:09 pm Reply

    Rules must be, but simple. Without rules will too mach dirtiness around, drug addicts (Not about marijuana), music and noisy after 9pm…(Music better prohibit at parks at all (Must use head phones) and not bother anybody satanic or not satanic music etc. – here is different people: many want to rest in silent, meditation etc. Need also animal control. Dogs prohibited signs good, but nobody care, dogs even without leashes can touch/bother/hurt other people…MAYBE DO FREE CAMPING FOR RESIDENTS AT SPECIAL PLACES OF PARKS WITH STRONG RULES TO CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELF, HEAVY DRUG’S TESTS ETC. 2 examples – I met ONE HOMELESS extremely dirty: he eat food and even do not understand (! LOOKS DRUG ADDICT) that need clean all trash after himself – respect so other people and God’s nature! Other – very clean normal homeless senior. I met him this summer at Ludgate Park. On my questins about conditions of his life, about persecutions he said that “yesterday received a ticket for illegal camping”(No tent, but only was set down at night with the blanket on his back!). I believe that even not Judge MUST understand the difference and be merciful to normal senior in first. If God still merciful to all of us, we must to stop at least the hypocrisy to poor people, who not do problems to anybody! God and Jesus hate very much hypocrisy! (Matt. 23). Praise the God and Lord Jesus for all. He will Judge this world in righteousness. Will “judge without mercy” anybody who not gave mercy to other people, especially to poor in this world.

  17. Kaiholo February 25, 2020 5:27 pm Reply

    The state should develop a “helping hands work community ranch” on state Ag land past Kekaha where all the down on their luck people and families and contribute with hard work and build self esteem. Small simple shelters to live in and work the land provide food for themselves and learn skills to be placed in jobs later. A self-sustaining community that grows food and life skills to become self-sufficient in the future. These camps are for people who have been born on the island. Not people dumped on Kauai from other mainland states or people looking for a easy free way to live in Hawaii. For those addicted to drugs or mentally ill. They should be put in to facilities that will help their specific needs. For those shipped here from the mainland he should be arrested and given a option freedom by you going back to where they were shipped here from. Hawaii is a very small state with limited land and resources. We cannot take on other states discarded humans with excessive needs. Our beaches and parks can not be human dumping grounds for those with needs, drug addicts and or the mentally ill.

  18. HARDWORKERS March 24, 2020 12:49 pm Reply


  19. john sheridan March 11, 2021 9:28 am Reply

    A sensitively written article. My wife and I used to own a small vacation rental on Kauai but after a few years gave it up. Kauai seems to be an island controlled by the hotels and big landowners for the benefit of millionaires. Is it really possible that in 2021 with the inequality that is America that Kauai has little compassion, no services, and no low cost housing program for the homeless? Check on what is possible. Look up the Pallet Shelter program in Everett, WA, for a possible solution. Take affirmative action Kauai, designate a good location, build, and put the breaks on Park and Rec repression.
    John Sheridan Portland Oregon,

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