Hawaii homeless encampment reassembled on closed property

HILO — A homeless encampment that was dismantled late last year has been reassembled in the same vacant lot on Hawaii island.

The new camp has raised fears of a potential public health threat as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Sunday.

A collection of makeshift shacks and tents was removed in November from the lot in downtown Hilo. The property owners were ordered to keep the lot clear of unpermitted structures.

During March, the lot once again attracted members of the homeless community, who set up tents and tarps at the encampment.

“It’s been getting bigger and bigger lately, and it’s progressing faster,” said Irene Agasa, co-owner of the adjacent Agasa Furniture and Music Store.

While she followed Democratic Gov. David Ige’s directive to close nonessential businesses until April 30, Agasa said she regularly sanitizes the shop because the camp’s population gathers around the store’s loading zones in opposition to social distancing guidelines.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

The previous camp was constructed on a cement foundation and surrounded by a chain-link fence. The foundation and fence were unpermitted and installed by property owners Elizabeth Jerilyn Rose and Michael Ravenswing, officials said.

The current camp has no such infrastructure.

“They took down my fence. I have no control over it,” Rose said, declining further comment on the homeless camp.

Rose and Ravenswing owe Hawaii County $177,000 in accumulated fines for failure to remove the unpermitted structures for most of 2019, the county said.

Hawaii County Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela said the county filed a motion for a writ of attachment, execution and sale of the property, which has an assessed value of $136,900.

The health risks associated with gatherings of people during the pandemic are an extra impetus to quickly resolve the issue, Kamelamela said.

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