HANAPEPE — Today, Salt Pond Beach Park will close for maintenance, shutting down the county’s pandemic-era Shelter-In-Place permitted camping program for the houseless.
This is the last county-owned beach park to shutter, with closures in ‘Anini and Anahola at the end of March, Lucy Wright Park in Waimea in April and Lydgate Park in Wailua at the end of May.
The disassembly of this program utilized by over 200 people was announced in February, and each shutdown has resulted in stress and anxiety for its residents, many unsure of where they will go next.
“The weight has been getting heavier,” Kamuela Gomes said Tuesday afternoon. “On a spiritual side, there’s more dark things coming in, more negativity. But that’s natural when you want to do something good.”
Gomes, along with other Salt Pond residents, in February sent a proposal for the conveyance of land to live on while restoring it through agricultural, educational and cultural use to the state and county under the group Holomua, Hawaiian Ahupua‘a Resource Development.
According to the proposal, the group intended to dwell on and maintain an access road for safe ingress and egress, as well as create a native botanical nursery, build tiny homes for Native Hawaiian families, maintain the landscaping, construct a playground for keiki and even put up educational signs.
Nobody has heard back from officials on this proposal.
Residents of the encampment supported the proposal, including those who have lived here prior to the program, including U‘i Kanahele and her brother Lincoln “Bubbles” Niau with his son. Niau mows the lawn and keeps an eye out at the entrance of the beach park by the community garden and smokehouse where he likes to prepare meals.
Before the Shelter-In-Place program, Kanahele would break down her tent every Tuesday for park maintenance, and then put it back up Wednesday.
“It’s hard if you have families,” Kanahele said. “We saw families with five children and the dad works and only have the mom. How is she going to put down a whole 20×20, watch five kids and get out of the park? That was a big issue.”
Under the county’s Shelter-In-Place program, Salt Pond has a limit of 50 permits, county Department of Parks &Recreation Director Patrick Porter said earlier this month.
“However, Salt Pond is different than most of our Shelter-in-Place sites in that there is a significant number of houseless living on state of Hawai‘i Department of Transporation and Department of Land and Natural Resources lands that abut the Salt Pond campsite,” Porter said. “The houseless communities that live on these state lands utilize the restrooms and pavilions in the Salt Pond campgrounds.”
Community members recently set up their own hot-water shower in a sort of protest to a nonprofit’s mobile shower unit that was partially purchased using federal coronavirus funds.
Rather, Gomes would have liked to see that money spent on providing the houseless with tents and other basic needs and rights.
“Once we push the issues and stand up for our Hawaiian rights, we truly see the lawlessness of the state as in where they don’t even follow their own law, such as the precedent set by Martin v. Boise,” Gomes said.
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.
And, for many, there’s no other shelter due to the lack of affordable housing on Kaua‘i.
Allen Lee Jr. lives off a fixed income of about $880 per month. According to the organization Fair Market Rent, a two-bedroom apartment here averages about $1,881 per month.
“We just can’t afford a place,” Lee said. “Us that make less than $1,000 a month, we can’t afford to actually get into a place in the first place.”
Recently, the county allocated $2.5 million for a permanent supportive-housing development, similar to its Kealaula on Pua Loke in Lihu‘e, a long-term rental development for families transitioning out of houselessness. This project will combine affordable housing with direct outreach.
Back in January 2020, 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. That’s only an estimate, and oftentimes many are still left uncounted.
And the number may soon grow.
Earlier this month, the Biden administration extended the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moratorium on evictions to the end of July.
Kopa Akana is concerned that once the moratorium lifts, more people will be struggling with houselessness, and this time around there won’t be any of the five beach parks open for people to stay in.
But, for some, the choice to be houseless is that, a choice.
“You’re a housed community, we’re a houseless community,” Tess Schleihs said. “We have the right to our dreams and our goals, our lifestyles and our sense of being. We are entitled to our right to not being forced out or not having to worry at night if somebody will come take my tent down while I’m sleeping.”
“We know this life. We’ve tried the American dream and, unfortunately … the American dream is just that: a dream,” Mana Geddes added. “We, as Hawaiian people, it is our right to choose what we wish to do on our land.”
Months ago, artists painted a mural on the bathroom pavilion at Salt Pond telling the origin story of the Hanapepe salt beds. Those staying at the encampment stopped by, some sitting for portraits, including keiki Legend and Indy. The two boys are painted playing in the sand together.
“If you are going to remove them physically here, you should remove them from the wall as well,” Geddes said. “It is a clear representation of what our own government is doing to our own people.”
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.