Friday, March 01, 2024|
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KAILUA-KONA — As plans move forward to clean up homeless camps at Old Kona Airport Park, the results could be a template for how law enforcement and community agencies respond to homeless issues in the future.
The homeless problem dominated discussion during Friday’s police commission meeting. Hawaii County police officers provided detailed reports about where homeless were residing around the island, how they were handling the situation and the upcoming cleanup of Old A.
The park will be closed at 7 a.m. Aug. 9 and remain closed into Aug. 10. To be sure the cleanup efforts were not in vain, the Department of Parks and Recreation plans to privatize security for the evening hours at the park to keep people from camping overnight.
“We are taking it back,” said Parks and Recreation Director Charmaine Kamaka. “It’s the people’s park.”
Police Chief Paul Ferreira told the commission the mayor’s office is looking at ways to address the homeless issue. Several agencies are involved including mental health, social services and housing services.
Ferreira said he’d like to be optimistic about the Old A cleanup.
“Are we going to be successful in cleaning up Old Airport? Unless we can keep enforcement up, we’re going to go back and forth,” Ferreira said.
Assistant Chief Mitch Kanehailua Jr. for Area II reported locations of other large camps and smaller clusters sprawled throughout Kailua-Kona.
Large encampments were located near storm drains and in various areas surrounding Queen Kaahumanu Highway. Smaller clusters are scattered throughout town.
Peter Hendricks, vice chairman of the commission, wondered how many individuals would take advantage of facilities if they were provided.
Kanehailua said a good number of the homeless like living the way they live.
“There’s a lot of responsibility to being a law-abiding citizen,” he said.
Kanehailua also explained how officers encounter many homeless individuals with mental health issues.
“In Kona there’s a lot of people we arrest that don’t belong there,” Kanehailua said. “They need psychiatric help.”
There’s no easy solution, Hendricks said.
“We appreciate what law enforcement does,” he said. “We need to bring in other resources.”
“Law enforcement is the Band-Aid fix for everything. It is a public issue and it is a public complaint issue,” Ferreira told commissioners about the homelessness issue.
It becomes a police problem when there are ordinance violations or crimes committed.
Commissioner Wayne De Luz said this is a big issue, adding if the right agencies don’t address homelessness, it only becomes a bigger issue.
“The reason we have these problems is the failure of government policy,” he said.
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