County to suspend camping permits for Kanaha Beach Park

KANAHA – The county Department of Parks and Recreation’s decision to put an indefinite hold on all overnight camping permits at Kanaha Beach Park beginning next month has dozens of families living at the park asking, “Where we going?”

“If they close it, I don’t know what they’re going to do,” said a mother who lives at the park and declined to be identified on Friday. “What are they going to do with all these people? They talk about the homeless outside, what about all us over here? Where we going?”

The parks department said that the camping permit suspension will allow for cleanup of the park and is part of the department’s master planning process to address “numerous complaints from park users,” according to a news release Thursday. The issues cited include large items, such as appliances and vehicles, being dumped in the area; weekly police reports of drunken and disorderly conduct, drug offenses, assaults and other incidents; and the campground area being unsafe and unsanitary for overnight use.

“This is a joint effort by the county and the state to clean up our park and make the area more secure, not just for park users but for the businesses nearby, including the rental car agencies and Kahului Airport,” department Director Kaala Buenconsejo said. “This is a well-used park and the bottom line is it needs to be clean and safe for everyone.”

Any overnight camping permits scheduled for after Aug. 31 will be refunded by the department.

Campers estimated that more than a hundred people – not all of them with permits – live throughout the park, with the vast majority of them being families with young children. School buses pick up children from the park.

“These people are like family,” Wailuku resident Steven Carroll said while seated next to a handful of people at the park. “You don’t know everybody, but we got to know each other and you watch out for each other and help each other.”

Carroll and his wife used to be homeless but “got back on our feet” and have helped out at the beach ever since. He drives his sister to work at Aloha Recycling and helps her break down her tent on Mondays.

Overnight campers living at the park must break down their tents every Monday and move elsewhere before returning to the park Wednesday morning.

“I remember when they said homeless was going to be the number one priority, but now it’s like on the back burner. It’s kind of sad,” Carroll said. “The outreach programs out there set you up to fail. My sister is a single mom, she no more car. Lucky she get family.”

Carroll said he heard about the closure of the park on the radio and fears it will remain closed to “houseless” people for longer than a couple months. He said his sister has been trying to find a house, but there are few options and rent is over a thousand dollars a month.

“She’s on the waiting list at the shelter, but the process is slow,” he said. “Get plenty benefits at the shelter but the moving along part is slow.”

The unidentified mother, who wondered where she would go when the park was shutdown to campers, said she has been living at the park for two years and buys a four-day overnight permit for $30 a week. She drops off her 11-year-old son at school and then drives to work at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali.

“We all do what we have to do to survive,” she said. “I’m not putting people down, but there’s people out there that consider us no good people. But you know what, if they come here and sit one week with us over here they would see we all like family.”

The woman said she and her husband live paycheck-to-paycheck and will live in their van if no other areas open up for them. She said she already has explained the situation to her son.

“No matter where we stay you’re going to be safe and you’ll have a roof over your head even if we gotta stay in our car,” she said to her son.

Her niece also may be living with them after exhausting her two-year limit at the shelter. She has four young children and is having a hard time finding a home even with federal assistance.

“Her last option is staying with her auntie at a campsite just to keep her kids off the street and out of trouble,” she said.

The growing number of homeless people living at the park has been an ongoing issue for the parks department for years. In December, officials met with residents and park users in a community meeting to determine a vision for an improved beach park.

After holding meetings and workshops and gathering surveys, the department determined that “safety, security and the issue of unauthorized encampments were the greatest concerns,” according to the news release.

Dozens of windsurfers, kitesurfers and others were enjoying strong winds and waves Friday afternoon at the beach. The park is known worldwide as one of the premier spots for those activities and many expressed concerns about the homeless problem.

“The campground has changed. It’s not really a campground, it’s a homeless encampment,” Haiku resident Marty Jones said.

Jones said she kitesurfs at the beach three times a week with her husband and that on a “good wind day” more than a hundred people could be in the water. The wind conditions are perfect at the beach, which has a lifeguard tower as well.

“Everyone has a right to enjoy this park . . . with their families and enjoy the resources,” she said.

Dorothy Sumners of Makawao said that she has “nothing against the homeless” living at the park, but claims they do not abide by the rules. A couple days ago, her friends were solicited to buy drugs and on Thursday a large fight broke out in front of a group of French tourists.

“It was really horrible,” she said. “It’s a pathetic situation and I don’t know the answer. But I think if they made them abide by the rules it would be better.

There are dogs tied to trees and, Sumners said she “can’t even walk down the sidewalk without a dog jumping” at her. She said that the park rangers do not enforce the rules.

She would be OK with the overnight camping permits, “if they would keep it clean, pick up after their dogs and keep their dogs under control.”

The unidentified mother and others living at the park said they do not fight or do drugs but have had people from the outside come and “cause trouble.”

“I don’t like people looking at us like we’re really troubled people because we’re not,” she said. “We’re the most friendliest people you can find.”

For more information about the Kanaha Park Master Plan, call parks project coordinator Cheryl Akiona at 270-7388.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.