Latest Articles

  • Why Did Tom Brower’s Visit to Homeless Encampment End in Violence?

    · By Rui Kaneya

    State Rep. Tom Brower and two boys who got into an altercation with him at a Kakaako homeless encampment Monday evening told conflicting stories Tuesday about how the legislator ended up in a hospital.

    Brower, who in the past has taken a sledgehammer to shopping carts abandoned by the homeless, said he was attacked without provocation. At a press conference, he told reporters he was walking around to investigate “constituent concerns” regarding public safety and health issues at the encampment.

    Brower said “a guy on a skateboard” approached and punched him “several times in the chest.” Soon, a second person, whom Brower said he didn’t see, joined in the fracas, knocking him down and punching him “a few times.”

    State Rep. Tom Brower says he was attacked without provocation.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Two homeless boys, ages 14 and 17, told Civil Beat on Tuesday morning that the altercation started because Brower was taking pictures of their encampment without permission and refused to stop.

    “We asked him nicely to please stop taking pictures. He told us, ‘Just back off,’” said Isaiah Totoa, 17.

    Totoa added that Brower never identified himself.

    “He said nothing about who he was at all. Never mentioned it once,” Totoa said. “He just kept telling us, ‘I’m here to help you guys.’ … Now I feel bad because I now know who he is. He’s trying to help. But, like I said, we’ve had people come here saying the same shit.”

    Tracy Martin, who lives in a tent nearby but didn’t witness

  • ‘One-of-a-Kind': Woman Runs Her Own Homeless Shelter

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Any minute now, John Bean’s medicine should start kicking in. But, as he sits in the back seat of an aging Subaru Forester, it’s apparent that it hasn’t yet: Bean’s still hallucinating and talking incessantly.

    Behind the wheel, Carolina Jesus isn’t worried; she’s seen all this before.

    In fact, as schizophrenic episodes go, Bean’s symptoms are mild, she explains: “He’s having some psychotic features. A little hallucinating. Seeing some things that aren’t there. But he’s coherent. Calm. Reasonable.”

    So Jesus just makes sure her car’s child safety locks are engaged — in case Bean gets a sudden urge to jump out — and calmly drives on.

    Just another day at the office for perhaps Honolulu’s most unusual effort to help the homeless.

    Felix Ursua plays the guitar for Carolina Jesus at their residence in Kalihi.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Since 2006, Jesus has been running a small, faith-based nonprofit called Shelter of Wisdom, and taking care of otherwise-homeless people like Bean — some suffering from even more severe forms of mental illness or drug addiction — is a routine part of her job.

    Jesus, a slender 56-year-old with wavy dark-brown hair flowing down her back, started out by taking people into her own home. That was back in 2003, and she owned only one property at the time — a three-unit house in Kailua.

    But, with her nonprofit in place, Jesus has steadily expanded the scope of her work and now operates out of six houses — two that she owns, along with four

  • Homeless Czar Gets One-Month Contract Extension

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Colin Kippen will have to show up to work Wednesday, after all.

    Kippen’s tenure as the governor’s coordinator on homelessness was supposed to expire at the end of June, but Gov. David Ige told reporters at Monday’s press conference that he extended Kippen’s contract for another month.

    This is the third time that Ige decided to keep Kippen around on an interim basis.

    In November, Ige first approached Kippen and asked him to stay in his post through the end of last year — only to change his mind late December and extend the offer for another six months.

    Gov. David Ige announced Colin Kippen’s contract extension at Monday’s press conference.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Whether Kippen, an appointee of former Gov. Neil Abercrombie, will get a fourth extension when his new contract wraps up at the end of July remains unclear.

    Ige said he’s now in the process of evaluating Kippen’s performance, as well as the state of Hawaii’s overall homelessness response system.

    To make a steady progress on the issue, the governor said it’s important that the state makes specific goals. “There are lots of details to be worked through,” he said. “Homelessness is a complex and tough issue.”

    But Hawaii has long been part of the nationwide effort — under a goal set by President Barack Obama in 2010 — to end veteran homelessness by the end of this year and chronic homelessness by 2017.

  • Hawaii’s Homeless Population Continues to Surge

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Hawaii’s homelessness crisis shows no sign of abating.

    According to the latest “point in time” count released Thursday by the state Department of Human Services, Hawaii’s homeless population stood at 7,620 when the annual survey was conducted in late January.

    That’s an increase by 702 individuals — a jump of more than 10 percent — compared to the previous year, when the officials counted 6,918 people living on the streets or in shelters.

    The biggest increase came from Hawaii county, which saw its homeless population climb from 869 to 1,241 — a whopping increase of nearly 43 percent.

    On Oahu, whose count was released in April, the number of homeless people jumped by nearly 35 percent. In Maui county, it went up by 18.5 percent.

    Kauai county, meanwhile, saw the number of homeless people decrease from 378 to 339.

    Tents line the sidewalks at Ohe Street near Waterfront Park in Kakaako.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    The relentless rise in homelessness comes at the time when state and local officials are putting an increasing effort — and resources — into tackling the problem. The Legislature and the Honolulu City Council have appropriated a total of more than $4 million this year for the Housing First program, which is aimed at identifying the chronically homeless and getting them quickly into permanent, supportive housing.

    But that’s exactly the population that saw a sharp increase. The number of chronically homeless people rose by nearly 24 percent — from 1,109 to 1,372. Those suffering from chronic substance abuse saw

  • Homeless Czar Has Been in Limbo for 6 Months, But the End May Be Near

    · By Rui Kaneya

    For all he knows, Colin Kippen will be out of his job in two weeks.

    Since June 2012, Kippen has been serving as the governor’s coordinator on homelessness, a job overseeing Hawaii’s homelessness response system.

    An appointee of former Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Kippen has remained in his post under the new administration — but only on an interim basis. Gov. David Ige first approached Kippen in November, asking him to stay on through the end of last year. In late December, Ige extended the offer for another six months.

    Kippen hasn’t heard whether he should bother showing up for work July 1.

    Former Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed Colin Kippen to serve as the governor’s coordinator on homelessness in June 2012.

    Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

    Ige, who is in Japan this week, was not available for comment. “Both the governor and chief of staff are traveling in Japan, and they have not been able to respond,” Cindy McMillan, the governor’s communications director, wrote to Civil Beat in an email.

    “I have no idea where we’re at at this point,” said Kippen, who previously served as the executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Indian Education Association and also led the Native Hawaiian Education Council. “I’m just taking it one day at a time.”

    Building a Database of the Homeless

    By any measure, Kippen’s job is a daunting one: He’s been tasked to tackle homelessness — one of Hawaii’s seemingly intractable issues — without so much as an operating budget.

    Housed under the Hawaii Department of Human

  • Revised Sand Island Plan for Homeless Borrows From a Mainland Model

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Earlier this month, when Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell unveiled his long-anticipated plan to use a plot of vacant land on Sand Island to house the homeless, he did it with a little twist.

    Instead of opening a tent-based homeless encampment, as he originally envisioned, Caldwell announced that the city would build a “modular” facility using up to 25 “modified shipping containers” to temporarily house 75 to 100 people.

    The new plan was inspired by an effort underway in Eugene, Oregon, where a group of activists from the Occupy movement helped build a collection of tiny homes — each about 8 by 8 feet — to form a micro-community for the city’s homeless population two years ago.

    The community, known as Opportunity Village Eugene, has been hailed as a success, and its innovative approach in tackling homelessness has been highlighted by the likes of The Guardian newspaper and The Atlantic magazine.

    Caldwell is betting that his plan will lead to a similar success.

    Mayor Kirk Caldwell unveils his plan to build a “modular” facility for Honolulu’s growing homeless population on vacant land on Sand Island.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Caldwell says the Sand Island facility — dubbed “Hale Mauliola” after the Hawaiian goddess of health — will be a place of refuge for those who are displaced by the city’s “sit-lie” ban — a series of ordinances passed by the Honolulu City Council that prohibits people from sitting or lying on the city’s busiest sidewalks.

    At a press conference he held on Sand Island,

  • UH Study: City’s Recent Moves Aren’t Curbing Homelessness

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Honolulu’s “sit-lie” ban and other ordinances underpinning Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s “compassionate disruption” program are doing little to curb homelessness in the city, according to a University of Hawaii study being released Monday.

    Instead, the study found, an array of ordinances aimed at clearing the city’s sidewalks has further complicated the lives of many homeless people by causing “economic and property loss,” as well as “physical and psychological harm.”

    The study was co-authored by Tai Dunson-Strane and Sarah Soakai, two graduate students in the university’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning.

    Homeless residents’ tents line the muddy bank of Kapalama Canal between King Street and Killingham Boulevard.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Their findings, based on a survey conducted in February and March with 70 homeless individuals at encampments in Aala Park, Kakaako and along Kapalama Canal, show that Caldwell’s program has not had its intended effect of prodding the homeless to emergency shelters where they can receive needed services.

    A third of the survey respondents said they were less likely to move to a shelter after being cited for violating the city’s sit-lie ordinance, which bans people from sitting or lying on public sidewalks in designated business districts.

    Another 61 percent said the sit-lie citations had no effect on the likelihood that they go to a shelter.

    The findings come less than two weeks after the Honolulu City Council overrode Caldwell’s veto of Bill 6, a measure that expands the sit-lie ban’s boundary to include portions of McCully, Aala and Punchbowl, as well as

  • Honolulu City Council Overrides Caldwell, Expands Sit-Lie

    · By Nick Grube

    The Honolulu City Council voted 6-3 Wednesday to override Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s veto of a controversial measure that works to shoo the homeless off sidewalks and away from businesses.

    Bill 6 will expand the city’s “sit-lie” ban beyond the business districts of Waikiki, Chinatown, Kaneohe and Kailua to include areas around McCully, Aala and Punchbowl, as well as along the Kapalama Canal where dozens of homeless people have set up tents.

    Caldwell warned the council that an expansion of the city law banning sitting and lying on sidewalks and in pedestrian malls could lead to legal challenges and even result in the entire ordinance being overturned. City attorneys refused to sign off on the bill when it was originally proposed, calling it “illegal.”

    Tents line the sidewalks at Ohe Street near Waterfront Park in Kakaako.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    But several council members disagreed with that assessment, saying that the courts should be allowed to decide just how far the city can go when it comes to keeping public spaces clear of homeless people.

    “Mayor Caldwell seems to think that if the law gets challenged the sky is going to fall on Honolulu and all of our sit-lie ordinances. I disagree,” Councilman Joey Manahan said. “I recognize that the law may be challenged, but the sky is not going to fall.”

    RelatedCan Honolulu’s Sit-Lie Ban Pass Constitutional Muster?May 20How Can ‘Housing First’ Work When the Housing Isn’t There?May 12

    Manahan said a legal challenge could help clarify city ordinances to ensure that there

  • Honolulu City Council Will Keep Pushing to Move the Homeless Along

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Despite Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s veto of one attempt, Honolulu City Council members appear dead set on expanding the city’s controversial “sit-lie” ban — even though they acknowledge they’re increasing the chance of a legal challenge.

    On Wednesday, the City Council will take up a spate of new bills aimed at pushing the boundary of the existing laws banning people from sitting or lying on sidewalks and in pedestrian malls.

    The glut of proposals comes less than two weeks after Caldwell exercised his veto power for the first time to block Bill 6, a measure that would apply the sit-lie prohibition to portions of McCully, Aala and Punchbowl, as well as the area along Kapalama Canal — all outside of the city’s premier business districts.

    Caldwell said Bill 6 contained “legally flawed language” and, if signed into law, would make the city’s entire sit-lie ban vulnerable to court challenges.

    A growing homeless encampment beside the Kapalama Canal is one of the areas targeted by the glut of new City Council bills.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    On Monday, Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, who introduced the bill, told Civil Beat that she’s still unsure whether her colleagues will move to override the mayor’s veto.

    But Kobayashi is taking no chances: Last week, she introduced a new measure, Bill 47, that essentially presents the original language of Bill 6 — without amended language that added the Aala and Kapalama areas to the bill’s coverage area.

    “The original (sit-lie) bill helped Waikiki but not local small businesses in other

  • Want to Fill Up Your Homeless Shelter? Ditch Some of the Rules

    · By Rui Kaneya

    The first thing to know about the Next Step homeless shelter is that it’s hard to find.

    Tucked inside a nondescript warehouse on a far end of Pier 1, sandwiched between stacks of steel shipping containers and a tall fence separating the pier from Kakaako Waterfront Park, it’s easy to miss if you don’t already know it’s there.

    But plenty of people do know. On any given night, scores of homeless people arrive at Next Step, looking for a spot in one of the 174 “cubicles” — each 4 feet by 6 feet.

    Run by Waikiki Health, the shelter often attracts more people than it can handle.

    “We sometimes have 10, 15 people outside wanting to get in,” said Richard Kaai, Next Step’s shelter services supervisor. “We have to turn them away because we don’t have any room.”

    Richard Kaai, shelter services supervisor, says homeless people are not subjected to strict rules at Next Step.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    On the face of it, it’s not surprising that the shelter has been operating at its full capacity. Oahu, after all, is home to hundreds of homeless people who could use its services. The latest count in January found that the island had more than 1,900 unsheltered homeless people — an increase of 62.5 percent since 2009.

    But Next Step is bucking a curious trend.

    All around the island, a number of homeless shelters have been operating at well below their capacity, according to the homeless advocacy group PHOCUSED, which has been tracking the shelters’

  • Honolulu Mayor Vetoes Latest Sit-Lie Bill

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Mayor Kirk Caldwell has vetoed the latest bill in a series of ordinances passed by the Honolulu City Council that bans people from sitting or lying on sidewalks and in pedestrian malls.

    The Honolulu mayor has been the main proponent of the so-called sit-lie ban, which took effect in September with enthusiastic support from the city’s tourism industry. The prohibition initially only applied to Waikiki, but its coverage area has since expanded to include the city’s central business districts, including Chinatown, and other areas like Kaneohe and Wahiawa.

    But Caldwell said Thursday that the ban’s latest expansion under Bill 6 goes too far. The bill, he says, contains some “legally flawed language” that, if signed into law, would have made the city’s entire sit-lie ban vulnerable to court challenges.

    In its place, the mayor presented an alternative — “the legally defensible bill” endorsed by Corporation Counsel Donna Leong — and urged the City Council to pass it instead.

    “I continue to wholeheartedly support the intent and purpose of Honolulu’s recently adopted sit-lie Laws,” Caldwell wrote in his letter to the City Council.

    Mayor Kirk Caldwell explains his decision to veto the sit-lie ban expansion during a Thursday press conference.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Caldwell’s alternative proposal amends Bill 6 to make the ban applicable only to sidewalks and would exclude areas zoned for residential or noncommercial uses.

    But it largely keeps intact the ban’s expansion to the Kapalama Canal, where the number of homeless people have increased dramatically since the sit-lie ban took effect. More

  • Can Honolulu’s Sit-Lie Ban Pass Constitutional Muster?

    · By Rui Kaneya

    The makeshift tents and debris perched precariously on the banks of Kapalama Canal are partly blocked from the view of drivers on the H-1 freeway just a block away. But this rapidly expanding homeless encampment, located less than 2 miles from downtown Honolulu, is ground zero in the debate about the city’s mounting homeless problem.

    Only months ago, fewer than 20 worn-out tents dotted the 500-yard stretch between King Street and Dillingham Boulevard. There are more than 50 now.

    The growth is a telltale side effect of the city’s so-called sit-lie ban, based on a series of ordinances passed by the Honolulu City Council that prohibits people from sitting or lying on the city’s busiest sidewalks.

    The homeless encampment along the Kapalama Canal on Tuesday. It has grown dramatically in recent months.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    The aim of the ban — at least in its official telling — is to prod the homeless into shelters where they can receive needed services, a theory underpinning what Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell calls “compassionate disruption.” But, as Civil Beat recently reported, it has only pushed them out of the city’s central business districts and into less bustling areas, including the banks of the canal.

    “We just took a chance with the bill. That’s why it may be declared illegal. Maybe it’s not worth the legal trouble, but what else can we do?” — City Council member Ann Kobayashi

    In response, the City Council has been steadily expanding the ban’s coverage area — an approach

  • Mayor Caldwell Calls Off Kakaako Homeless Sweeps

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Mayor Kirk Caldwell is giving up on enforcing the city’s sidewalk nuisance and stored property ordinances in Kakaako, according to Hawaii News Now.

    The Caldwell administration has been aggressively enforcing the ordinances as part of the mayor’s “compassionate disruption” strategy, intended to prod the homeless into shelters where they can receive needed services.

    But now, Mileka Lincoln reports, Caldwell has concluded that such enforcement won’t do any good unless the city can give homeless people places to go. “It is very troubling. We have done enforcements in the past, but what happens is they just move onto other state property, stand there, let us clean everything up on the sidewalk, then we leave, and they move right back,” Caldwell said.

    The Honolulu Department of Facility Maintenance has spent nearly $1.9 million to enforce the ordinances, according to Lincoln.

    Tents line both sides of Olomehani Street in Kakaako near the Ohe Street intersection.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    As Civil Beat recently reported, since a series of the so-called sit-lie laws — also part of the “compassionate disruption” — was instituted by the city last year, it has triggered the encampments along Ohe and Olomehani streets in Kakaako to proliferate. On any given day, more than 100 tents can be found there.

    But the city is doubling down on the sit-lie ban. Last week, the City Council tweaked the ban, so that its boundary will, for the first time, cover outside of the city’s business districts — including portions of McCully, Aala, Punchbowl and

  • How Can ‘Housing First’ Work When the Housing Isn’t There?

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Just before 10 a.m., on a sunny Thursday in late April, Kehau Reeves was hanging out at her usual spot, near a picnic table at Kewalo Basin Park.

    An affable 44-year-old with her hair neatly tied in a ponytail, Reeves is one of the park’s regulars — for more than a year, she’s been camping out here in a small tent.

    To bring a semblance of normalcy to her life, she keeps her area clean and organized. She has her belongings tidily folded and arranged around her tent and on benches. When a nearby public restroom gets messy, she cleans it up.

    This way, Reeves can endure the vagaries of living hand to mouth. But the homeless life has taken its toll, and she’s desperate to get away from it. To start over, though, Reeves says she needs a roof over her head. “I need a foundation before I can do anything,” she said. “It’s hard to find work being in this situation.”

    In recent years, city and state officials have been trying to ramp up a program aimed at identifying chronically homeless people like Reeves and getting them quickly into permanent, supportive housing. Built around a guiding concept known as “Housing First,” it’s the centerpiece of Hawaii’s effort to combat homelessness, and similar programs have proven effective elsewhere.

    But, despite an infusion this year of more than $4 million in city and state funds into the program, Oahu’s homeless population is still growing.

    Kapeka Chun, an outreach worker at Kalihi-Palama Health Center,

  • More Federal Funds to End Homelessness Among Vets

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Hawaii will receive more than $1.2 million through a federal program to fight homelessness among veterans.

    The new injection of funds bolsters the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program — run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — that provides rental assistance and clinical services for homeless veterans.

    In Hawaii, the program is projected to help 110 vets this year.

    “This is an urgent issue that must be addressed with a multifaceted strategy, and $1.2 million in housing funding for Hawaii veterans is a helpful step in the right direction,” U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who served two tours of duty in the Middle East as a member of the Hawaii National Guard, said in a statement.

    Tents line the sidewalks at Ohe Street near Waterfront Park in Kakaako.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    The expansion of the HUD-VASH program is part of the national effort to eliminate the veterans homelessness by the end of the year — a goal President Barack Obama set in 2010.

    With the deadline fast approaching, Hawaii has a lot to work on. As Civil Beat recently reported, the HUD-VASH program isn’t finding traction in Hawaii’s tight rental housing market. The latest “point in time” count, which was released on Monday, bears that out: The number of homeless veterans in Oahu stood at 467, an increase of nearly 52 percent since 2009.

    You can read the full “point in time” count here:

    Oahu 2015 PIT report from