WAILUA — Michael Texeira has lived at Lydgate Park, one of the county’s five beach-park houseless encampments, since the beginning of the pandemic, with his disabled wife, whom he takes care of.
Their campsite, on a slight hill overlooking the pavilion, consists of a pop-up structure protecting their red-and-white camping tent with a grey tarp over a picnic table that hosts food, a hot plate and other necessities. Their four-month-old puppy, Akami, sits watch.
Late last week, Texeira, as well as other permitted campers, said county park rangers came into the campsite warning them that pop-up structures had to be removed or face citations.
His pop-up, Texeira said, offers stability and protection from the elements.
“Rain wipes out everything,” Texeira, 60, said. “It’s dangerous.”
In April, Mayor Derek Kawakami signed into effect an emergency rule that established five houseless beach encampments.
The designated county campgrounds include Lucy Wright Park, Salt Pond Beach Park, Anahola Beach Park, ‘Anini Beach Park and Lydgate. All other county campgrounds are closed, and issued permits were canceled through the end of the year, due to the virus, according to the county.
Each month, residents of the grounds are required to apply for month-long temporary camping permits, regardless of age.
In January, an official overnight Homeless Point-In-Time Count discovered 424 people either living in shelters or unsheltered. This was a slight decrease from 2019’s houseless count of 443.
But, this year, there were more who were unsheltered. But this count was conducted before the pandemic.
This April, the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation stated it had “established maximum capacities for each of the five campgrounds that were designated for our houseless community in order to provide for the health, safety and welfare of them and the people of Kaua‘i from the potential spread of the novel coronavirus.” This press release, however, did not state the maximum capacity.
Napuanani McKeague is the founder of Voices for Kaua‘i, what she calls a “non-non-profit,” which assists other houseless families and individuals. McKeague keeps a log of every day at the Lydgate camp, recording a roster of each person and family, their circumstances, which campsite their at, and more. By her count, there are about 90 people at the Lydgate Lahui.
McKeague, along with others, also offer counseling to other residents, and assists in connecting them to county and nonprofit resources.
“It’s what we can do,” she said. “We’re just trying to survive.”
Some rules for the camp, she said, are violations of civil and human rights. “If the county was interested in keeping the camp safe or making it more uniform, it could provide tents and more structure,” she said. How it is now, it’s up to the permittees to decide, and their power is limited.
“Just because we’re out here doesn’t mean our rights can be abandoned,” McKeague said.
Park rangers have come into the camp late at night before quiet hours or early in the morning before sunrise to check on compliance of rules. A suspected raid was set to occur in the early hours today.
“They shine their lights into the tents,” Texeira said. “They don’t respect our privacy.” McKeague agreed. “It’s a lack of humanity.” And it goes further. It’s a fear the houseless community lives in that every day they could return and find their belongings gone.
“Tents are our most valuable possessions,” McKeague said, and the items in those tents, or outside in the camp site, may be all the possessions a person has in this world.
When asked Friday if there would be an enforcement raid on Monday, the Parks and Recreation Department would not confirm or deny.
County public-information officers, who act as liaisons between media and county departments, did not provide a follow-up when asked if pop-up tents were allowed or if there would be new enforcement of rules.
As custom with the emergency rules, penalties include $100 for first offense, $200 for a second, and so forth, not to exceed $500.
However, the mayor’s emergency rules regarding the designated camping zones were last re-upped on Sept. 30, with an Oct. 31 expiration date. There have been no emergency rules regarding the designated county campgrounds since.
“I follow the rules, one all the way to 20,” Texeira said. “They’re trying to add rules, scare tactics. People get angry. They’ve been lied to, cheated. I’m exhausted.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the unsheltered houseless population is at risk for community spread of COVID-19. The CDC recommends overflow shelters, isolation and quarantine campsites and sufficient signage about the virus.
“(After all this time) they (the county) still don’t think about us,” McKeague said.
Saturday afternoon, McKeague walked to the women’s bathroom.
Outside, an aquatic mural decorates a wall with ceramic fish. Inside, one camp resident and family painted a mural celebrating Hawaiian culture to bring some light to the community. A playful honu (turtle) and nai‘a (dolphin) swim through the bright blues of the ocean on the wall. Depictions of native fruit line the shower stalls.
While it might seem like an improvement, it’s been deemed graffiti, McKeague said. She’ll be sad to see the mural gone if the county does decide to paint over it.
“This stopped the nasty-kine graffiti. This is not graffiti, this is somebody’s passion,” she said. “This is somebody’s art.”