WAILUA — “Maybe this is a blessing in disguise,” Torrie said, looking out at Lydgate Beach Park, her home for over a year.
Monday marked the last day of the county’s Shelter in Place program at this campsite that provided a place with access to running water, electricity and bathrooms for over a year during the coronavirus pandemic.
Napuanani “Pua” McKeague has acted as a resource to many at the encampment, keeping track of over 200 people who’ve utilized the park throughout its operation. Monday, as she walked the site, she took note of her people.
“Ninety-three-plus souls, children, kupuna, mentally and physically challenged with nowhere to go,” McKeague said. “What have we accomplished? We can’t even get an invitation to any of the tables to put in some mana‘o. Who would know better than us?”
Lydgate transformed into different zones, with areas for families, kupuna and those working, for example. McKeague said there was a request for a 90-day extension, but it was not granted.
“This is about basic human rights,” McKeague said. “This is us determining as a community, as Kaua‘i island community. We have the ability to set the pace for the state, for the nation, on how we’re treating our houseless.”
McKeague and Torrie teamed up to provide counseling sessions to residents of the park, helping those navigate resources or handle their emotions.
“We wanted to leave this place better than how we found it,” Torrie, who will be flying back to the Mainland after the closure, said. She noted that the group was more like a family community.
“We had an opportunity to talk to each other in a town-hall-style meeting and we talked about the importance of staying calm and to be more relaxed and keeping your vibrations high,” she said. “Every story I’ve heard about where someone’s going next is a better situation than what they’re in now. Some of this wouldn’t have happened without this push.”
The county administration initially designated five beach parks as Shelter in Place areas for the houseless community in March 2020. At these encampments, people could apply for a monthly permit to set up a small campsite with amenities provided by the county, like access to a bathroom, running water and social services. In February of this year, the county announced the disassembly of this program, used by over 200 individuals across the island.
Kaua‘i County Councilmember Felicia Cowden had visited the parks frequently.
“This was emergency sheltering for the COVID-19 window, and it has certainly been a relief for COVID suppression on the island at this time,” Cowden said. “But the problem is much larger. The larger community has grown weary of the impacts on the parks.”
Cowden said throughout much of her childhood she faced housing insecurity, so this feels very personal to her.
“It’s not the park’s role to solve this economic challenge to all of our nation, but this is a problem for all of the people,” Cowden said. “This is a wound on the public body, and we have to take care of it. It doesn’t go away.”
Kamuela Gomes, who lives at Salt Pond Beach Park, was at Lydgate Monday morning to offer support during the closing.
“The bottom line to all of this issue is that this is our county, our independent nation or kingdom, occupied by the United States,” Gomes said. “It boils down to (the county’s) procedure and their protocols, which are invalid and completely illegal.”
Gomes has gone to court against the county in a civil case in May 2020 using Martin v. Boise as precedent.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in 2018 found that a city ordinance in Boise, Idaho violated the Eighth Amendment of cruel and unusual punishment by citing houseless individuals criminally for sleeping outdoors on public property without alternative shelter.
In February of this year, the city of Boise reached a settlement, ending 12 years of litigation, agreeing that houseless individuals cannot be cited or arrested for sleeping outdoors when no other shelter is available.
A March 31 survey of Salt Pond Beach Park, the last Shelter-In-Place zone, showed that county facilities were operating at capacity, and the county could not accommodate additional permits.
“… (No) new permits will be issued for June to those not already holding permits for Salt Pond,” the county said in a May 30 social media notice.
Two months later, on May 28, just three days before Lydgate closed, the county provided a shuttle to Salt Pond from here, which went unused.
Rangers with the county’s Parks and Recreation Department were on-hand Monday, taping off areas that were deemed rubbish for removal.
Michael Daly, who lives at Salt Pond, has been documenting the closure of Lydgate.
“It’s a different environment,” Daly said. “The trouble with this park is that it doesn’t have grass lawn, so whenever you go to the toilet, it’s a real hassle.”
Daly said this park could be a model for a sustainable village, but it needs some work.
“Practical things could make this park one of the best in the world, but it needs a design for the people,” Daly said.