Bulldozers and other heavy equipment cleared 40 acres mauka of Honoapiilani Highway, from Dickenson Street to Kauaula Stream, of "little tent cities" that had housed hundreds of homeless people.
Maui police, social service agencies, including the Salvation Army, Family Life Center and Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Centers; county Housing and Human Concerns officials; state Department of Health nurses and doctors, and other community groups converged on the area Monday.
Those involved in the operation on the private land, owned by Kaanapali Land Management Co., estimated that between 100 and 500 homeless people had lived in three major "villages" behind the Lahaina Aquatic Center, a cemetery and a streambed in Kauaula.
A homeless encampment mauka of Honoapiilani Highway was razed Monday.
KENNY HULTQUIST photo
Most of the homeless people in the area were focused behind the Lahaina Aquatic Center, a nearby cemetery and the Kauaula Stream.
KENNY HULTQUIST photo
Most had dispersed to other areas when notices of the planned eviction were posted and distributed among the homeless population on June 12. There were only 18 to 20 people still at the site Monday, said Kevin Nagasaki, envoy for the Salvation Army Lahaina Lighthouse Corps., who was on-site to offer assistance.
"We pretty much warned them," he said, adding that the closing of the homeless encampment went peacefully. "They had ample time. There is a few that will stay to the bitter end."
For some, watching their "homes" razed was painful. "That's all that they have," said Shelley Blackburn, chief operating officer of Ka Hale A Ke Ola, who also was at the site Monday. She watched one woman crying as a bulldozer cleared around her tent.
"The tears confirmed to me that it sure wasn't a happy moment," she said.
On the brighter side, her agency was able to take in more than a dozen of those people. The Family Life Center reported that it had helped a west side couple on Tuesday find housing and was in the process of assisting a family of three that had a Housing and Urban Development veterans voucher.
A pre-eviction survey by Ka Hale A Ke Ola, which put the number at about 100 homeless residents in the encampment, found that most of the residents in the area were single, though there were a few families. About 90 percent had substance abuse or mental health issues, said Blackburn.
Council Member Elle Cochran, who initiated the effort to clear the area, added that some of the homeless were people who came to Maui with one-way tickets who "can't rent a place and live off a busboy's pay." Some of the homeless residents in the area were clean-cut, she said.
"I knew a lot of people, personal friends, family, people I went to school with," said the council member whose residency district includes Lahaina. "It hit me on a personal level. . . . I know these people and their families."
Still, she felt compelled to act because the area was near the Boys & Girls Club, the Lahaina Aquatic Center and the skate park, areas frequented by youths. Neighboring residents also complained about thefts.
"It's just the safety. . . . The people on drugs and who have mental illness roaming around in their neighborhoods" created an "unsafe feeling," she said.
She said police told her there were 400 to 500 homeless people living in "little tent cities."
"They were pretty creative," added Cochran about the shelters. "They were pretty ingenious . . . . very resourceful people."
After Cochran brought this problem to the attention of county officials, the Department of Housing and Human Concerns helped round up social service agencies, as well as county departments and community groups, to assist the homeless. Planning for shutting down the homeless site began in May.
Department Deputy Director Jan Shishido commended all of the agencies as well as the Maui Police Department's Lahaina Division and its captain, John Jakubczak, who went out periodically to the encampment to check on residents, especially after the notice to vacate went out.
Other agencies that assisted included the Maui Humane Society, which rounded up unleashed and vicious dogs, Shishido said. The state Department of Health sent nurses and a mental health doctor. Community Work Day assisted with the cleanup and helped separate different types of waste such as metal, tires and batteries.
"That was huge," Shishido said of CWD's contributions.
She said there were "tons and tons and tons" of debris left behind.
Others mentioned sanitation issues.
"It was pretty nasty in there," said Kenny Hultquist of Lahaina, who was filming the event. There were no Porta Potties, "so use your imagination on that one," he said.
This will not be the last homeless encampment eviction, those who work with Maui's homeless said. There are 1,200 to 1,400 people homeless people on Maui, and "we simply do not have enough affordable housing to help everyone who is displaced," said Maude Cumming, executive director of the Family Life Center that provides housing for women and children in Kahului.
The vast majority of residents of the homeless encampment fled to other places.
"That's always a concern: Are we really helping people or are we just displacing people?" Cumming said.
Whenever there is an eviction, such as the one Monday, agencies like hers are able to make contact with homeless people and dispel misinformation or help them get mental health services. One by one, they are able to put people and families into homes.
"Every time we do this, we get people who are unaware and didn't understand," she said. "Our whole goal in approaching this is we want to spread the word that services are available."
Blackburn concurred with Cumming. She hopes that the homeless get tired of moving from site to site "until one day, they are going to finally say 'enough is enough, I need help; I wanted to be housed.'
"If it was just one, we have done our job."
Cochran pointed out that the private landowner has some responsibility as well. Government and social service agencies used their resources to "clean a private land opala."
She said that she would love to talk to landowners to look into the concept of a tent city for the homeless, something that other municipalities have been doing.
Efforts to reach Kaanapali Land Management Co. for comment on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
* Lee Imada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.