HANAPEPE — At noon Wednesday, county park rangers put up signs on trees and pavilions and stuck stakes into the ground notifying all those at Salt Pond Beach Park the facility is closed until further notice and all those found at the park would be “subject to arrest for criminal trespassing.”
The county cites Kaua‘i County Code 19-1.5, which states the director of the Department of Parks &Recreation may close parks as “necessary for the health, safety or welfare of the public” as the reason to close, and Hawai‘i Revised Statutes 708.814.5 states criminal trespass onto public parks and recreational grounds as a warning that it is an offense against property rights.
Some Salt Pond residents had already packed up their cars or shopping carts, had friends pick them up, or biked away as much as they could hold in their baskets.
But about an hour after those signs went up, many of those who have lived at the park under the county’s Shelter-In-Place pandemic program for the houseless, and those who came to stand in solidarity, congregated to the center pavilion by the bathrooms to talk about the closure and their rights.
“We talk about the acknowledgment of our rights so much because everybody within the state and everybody on the other side would feel free if we all acknowledged that,” Kamuela Gomes said.
Gomes is talking about Hawaiian sovereignty rights, the right to be on Hawaiian soil.
“When we can get to the core of the land title and jurisdiction issue, it is the basis of remedy,” Gene Tamashiro of Natural Law Hawai‘i said. “We have an important future to protect. We have keiki to protect. We have ‘aina to protect.”
Salt Pond acted as a Shelter-In-Place site where the houseless community could legally live at certain county parks through a permitting program through the county during the pandemic.
The program started in March 2020 as a way to contain the vulnerable transient population, which was recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over 200 people utilized the program in the 15 months it was open throughout the island at five county-owned parks, which included ‘Anini and Anahola beach parks, Lydgate Park in Wailua and Lucy Wright Park in Waimea.
With this park’s closure and the dissolution of the program, many individuals and families have nowhere to go.
Strain on facilities
The county did not provide updated permit numbers for how many the county had accounted for at Salt Pond. However, in an earlier request, officials stated that the county would only permit 50 people at Salt Pond, due to neighboring encampments putting a strain on facilities.
County Managing Director Michael Dahilig called the Shelter-In-Place program an “aggressive and innovative measure” used to contain COVID-19 by “reducing vectors.”
“However, given the health protections available to the broader community like vaccines, and the decrease in disease risk, it is time to revert our shared park spaces back to normal civic use after over a year of this initiative,” Dahilig said.
“We thank the public for its patience as we have gradually wound down this health measure, and it is now time for everyone to safely enjoy our parks.”
The Shelter-In-Place program was always meant to be temporary, County Housing Agency Director Adam Roversi said in a June statement. The county, as well as nonprofits, including Kaua‘i Economic Opportunity and Catholic Charities Hawai‘i, which both provided funding for airline tickets for the houseless, have tried to offer alternative options as the parks closed.
“The county has funded a $500,000 rental-assistance program specifically to provide rental payments for homeless individuals who have been living in Shelter-in-Place locations,” Roversi said.
“We have a waitlist of potential applicants generated during our outreach events, and our partner Women In Need is currently working through applications to place people in housing. We expect this funding to house between 15 and 20 homeless families for one year.”
Julie Kauakahi had lived at Salt Pond in 2014 with her husband and their children. It took her three, 120-day opportunities with housing vouchers before they were able to find a place that would work. But she doesn’t forget where she came from.
Kauakahi does outreach at various encampments, and offers resources and help to many who are family.
Kauakahi suggested the county offer more options that meet people where they are, and in many cases that’s those who don’t have identification or have felony records. She said offering a step before transitional housing and readiness courses could break the cycle of housed to houseless.
County Councilmember Felicia Cowden arrived early in the day to Salt Pond, as she has for all of the county beach park closings.
“I have endeavored to come to these implementations of what our (county) policy is,” Cowden said. “It is a point of hardship, especially for the residents, but also very difficult part of the job for our rangers.”
Cowden took virtual meetings in the pavilion on Wednesday, including one with the county administration, to discuss her ideas for county policy to work with the houseless community.
“In each moku, I would like to create self-empowering communities that work with the community associations of that area,” Cowden said.
Cowden envisions the two groups would come up with a design and plan in partnership on an agricultural property for improved camping with bathrooms, kitchen facility and wastewater, and residents can utilize and improve the land.
Since the closings
Recreational camping opened on April 30 at ‘Anini and Anahola beach parks, costing $3 per person per night, with fees waived for Hawai‘i residents and those under 17 years old. Since then, 662 permits for 2,346 individuals were issued for ‘Anini Beach Park, and 221 permits for 663 individuals were issued in Anahola, as of Monday.
The county will not longer offer camping at Lucy Wright Park in Waimea.
Lydgate Park closed at the end of May after requests for an extension from the county were denied.
“It was considered, but ultimately, it was not approved,” Department of Parks &Recreation Director Patrick Porter said in a June statement. “We’ve had a transition plan in place to discontinue the temporary Shelter-In-Place program for many months now. And occupants of all parks were previously, and repeatedly, notified by our park rangers, Housing Agency officials and services providers in the months and days leading to the impending closures, as early as February.”
Some houseless individuals relocated to state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands property in the vicinity of Salt Pond after the closure, but many have since moved.
Recreational camping at Lydgate remains closed as the county continues to clean it up.
Rehna “Pueo” Fox lived at Lydgate Park, and has been roaming since its closure. Fox came to Salt Pond Wednesday to support the residents there.
“I’ve lived here 54 years, and there’s no aloha right now,” Fox said. “No welcome. I’ve never dreamed of this.”
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.