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Not much aloha at Ho‘aloha Park

Growing number of homeless stirs conflict with canoe clubs

A homeless man rinses off his feet and shoes at Hawaiian Canoe Club’s shower Friday afternoon at Ho‘aloha Park in Kahului. The key to understanding homelessness is communication, he said. “Talk to them, share ideas,” he said. Members of the Hawaiian and Na Kai ‘Ewalu canoe clubs base their paddling programs for hundreds of youths and adults at the park where they report some homeless people engage in sometimes bizarre, unsanitary and unruly behavior. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Maui County’s Ho’aloha Park is home to hundreds of Hawaiian and Na Kai ‘Ewalu canoe club paddlers, but in recent months it’s been a hot spot for trouble with homeless people and vagrants.

Some defecate and urinate in bushes and elsewhere in the park, club members say. There have been reports of at least one knife fight, vandalism, thefts and littering, including discarded hypodermic needles.

“I’ve never seen it this bad in the 40 years that I’ve been paddling out here,” said longtime Hawaiian Canoe Club coach Paul Lu’uwai.

Vagrancy has long been a problem in the 2-acre park abutting Kahului Harbor and across Kaahumanu Avenue from the Kahului Shopping Center, club members said.

This most recent influx of homeless people at Ho’aloha Park came in the wake of law enforcement officers clearing encampments at the Kahului Harbor breakwater and Kanaha Beach Park, they said.

For two or three months (near the end or shortly after the Maui Interscholastic League paddling season), the homeless numbers reached a daily peak of around 30 to 40 individuals at the park, according to Lu’uwai.

They were “kind of just living there,” he said. They would “hang out” in the vicinity of a fence line and wall near First Hawaiian Bank and in the park’s parking lot.

“They sleep all over the place,” Lu’uwai said. “They’re all over, and there’s so many.”

Last week, canoe club members, park rangers, police and property owner representatives cooperated in conducting a sweep of homeless in the vicinity of Ho’aloha Park, Lu’uwai and others said.

“We picked up rubbish, moved (shopping) carts out of the area,” Lu’uwai said.

Hawaiian Canoe Club President and board Chairman Dave Ward and board member Bruce U’u said that the recent sweep showed the importance of adjoining landowners working together.

Ward said homeless people know exactly where property lines are drawn at the park, and they step over to an adjoining property when a property owner tells them to leave. With all property owners represented during the sweep and not permitting trespassing, there was nowhere for the homeless people to go except away from the area, he said.

(Ho’aloha Park and nearby properties are owned by Maui County, the state, Alexander & Baldwin Inc. and the Weinberg Foundation.)

“We’re all working toward a solution, but we’re definitely not there yet,” Ward said.

The homeless problem at Ho’aloha had gotten “out of control,” he said.

Someone grabbed the mast of a sailboat and broke it into pieces. There was a knife fight, and someone dragged a one-man canoe out onto the road, he said.

Lu’uwai said that most of the homeless people he encounters appear to be minding their own business.

“It seems like they’re just hanging out,” he said.

But there are a few who are “unruly” and “abrasive,” he said. And, “I think there’s drug activity.”

Mahina Martin, race director for Maui Interscholastic League paddling, said that the canoe clubs are taking measures to ensure the safety of paddlers.

“Our coaches, the hosting canoe clubs that support our 12 high schools with equipment and use of facilities, and race officials have put in place safety measures and taken strong steps to ensure all paddlers remain safe and are not exposed to risks,” she said. “We know that the island’s homeless issue is not ours alone, and we continue to work with law enforcement and county departments to find solutions.”

One group of paddlers hired a private security agency to provide security during team practices, she said, and coaches have been forced to lock canoe hales during practices.

Martin said that she has seen people exhibit “sometimes bizarre” behavior and others who are obviously either intoxicated or high on drugs.

Growing numbers of homeless people and vagrants have been congregating at the park, she said, and a few have grown “more brazen, more bold.”

Gathering in larger groups of individuals appears to embolden them, Martin said, and when that’s compounded by alcohol consumption “we have a bad mix.”

Na Kai ‘Ewalu head coach Owen Seiki said that the homeless problem has become a “big nuisance.”

There was a knife fight among homeless people a week or two ago, Seiki said. And, more than once, a coach reported catching a couple in the act of sexual intercourse — at least once at midday shortly before young paddlers were scheduled to show up for practice.

“Our members feel unsafe, especially female paddlers. . . . They don’t want to be there alone. Parents are concerned about their kids,” Seiki said.

Lu’uwai commends Maui Police Department officers for responding to frequent, if not daily, calls for help from canoe club members seeking help in coping with homeless people.

“We call them so much,” he said. But “we don’t know what to do. We can’t take the law into our own hands.”

Officers have gone “beyond the call of duty,” he said.

Lu’uwai said that what he finds most repugnant is finding human feces, and he’s asked the county to return a port-a-potty that had been on the park property.

“They’re using the bathroom all over the place,” he said.

Returning a port-a-potty to the park is under consideration, said Department of Parks and Recreation Director Ka’ala Buenconsejo, but county officials need to determine whether funding should come from the parks department’s budget as a recreation item or from the Department of Housing and Human Concerns as something to address a homeless issue.

County spokesman Rod Antone said that the county previously had a port-a-potty at Ho’aloha Park, but it was vandalized and “defecation was all over the port-a-potties as well.”

He said that the county administration was working with the Maui Police Department to “go into that area and get people out of there who have warrants.”

“The solutions are not simple,” Antone said. “It comes down to the need to create a homeless housing program.”

Buenconsejo said that the county is working with the canoe clubs, state and other agencies in a coordinated effort to address the problem, which also exists at Baldwin and Kanaha beach parks.

“We’re doing our best to address the Ho’aloha Park issue,” he said.

Maui County Council Member Don Guzman, who holds the council’s Kahului residency seat, said that he and Council Member Stacy Crivello attended a meeting last week with administration officials aimed at getting “stakeholders involved” and “trying to figure out a plan” to address the vagrancy problem at Ho’aloha Park.

“Our parks are becoming inundated with the homeless,” said Guzman, who chairs the council’s Parks, Recreation, Energy and Legal Affairs Committee.

* Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.

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