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County to homeless: Move on

An estimated 100 illegal campers at Baldwin Beach Park must vacate May 23

More than 25 tents housing homeless people were seen Tuesday afternoon on the eastern end of Baldwin Beach Park. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

PAIA — The homeless community living at Baldwin Beach Park has until May 23 to vacate the area, according to a notice posted in the park Tuesday morning.

Beachgoers say the growing homeless encampment has caused more problems in recent months, but those who live there say it’s one of the few safe places for homeless people on Maui.

“This is probably the last safe haven,” said one homeless man who asked not to be identified. “People know you can come here and fall asleep in the middle of the field and not wake up getting stabbed. It’s kind of a place of trust.

“They’re taking it away and then it’s going to be chaos everywhere.”

Police posted the notice in coordination with the county Departments of Housing and Human Concerns and Parks and Recreation, county spokesman Rod Antone said.

Broken Roots, who lives in his truck at Baldwin Beach Park, talks about homeless people at the park alongside friend Nate Kaipo Spencer of Paukukalo on Tuesday afternoon. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

“We’ve been getting complaints coming in steadily all year long,” Antone said. “It’s getting bad. This is a public health and safety issue.”

An encampment of more than 25 tents has formed a small community in the woods just beyond the east end of Baldwin Beach. On Tuesday, the camp was quiet as people rested on hammocks or inside tents. A handful of campfires were smoldering.

A French Canadian woman, who did not want to be identified, said she was “for sure going to be gone” by May 23, though she wasn’t sure where she’d move. She came to Maui six months ago after her son’s passport was stolen while he was on island. She rented a room and tried to find a job, but rent was so expensive that she bounced around before settling at Baldwin.

Her son has a job, so she hopes they can find a place to live soon.

“It’s not a way to live like this, but we are comfortable,” the woman said. “During the night sometimes, it’s very noisy. People fight.”

An eviction notice was posted Tuesday morning at a homeless campsite on the eastern end of Baldwin Beach Park. The notice said the area will be cleared at 10 a.m. May 23. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

Fights happen every two days, she estimated.

In addition to the complaints of trash, beachgoers have reported theft and harassment, Antone said. In February, 22-year-old Sean Dunn was arrested and charged with first- and second-degree assault and abuse for beating his girlfriend who lived at the park with him.

“From what we can tell, the behavior there of some of the illegal campers, not all of them, seems to be getting more aggressive,” Antone said.

But others said that not everyone who lives there makes trouble. A man, who only gave his name as Mystic and came to Baldwin park three weeks ago, said “everyone respects their own boundaries.” He wasn’t sure where he was going to go after May 23.

“A lot of shelters don’t take men,” he said. “It’s very limited, what our options are.”

He said that kicking out the campers, most of whom were from the Mainland, would not solve the problem.

“All they’re doing is moving the problem to another place,” he said.

Parks and Recreation Department Director Kaala Buenconsejo estimated that more than 100 homeless people live in the area around Baldwin park.

“It’s a major concern from a department standpoint,” Buenconsejo said. “Being short-staffed as we are already, a lot of man hours that should be used to upkeep the park and doing maintenance is being spent on cleanup on a daily basis.”

Buenconsejo said it’s not the department’s job to monitor the homeless, but that responsibility has fallen to the department anyway. Park rangers, for example, “are spending 90 percent of their time issuing citations for the homeless. So we’ve tied up that function, which was never entailed to be a homeless enforcement division.”

In an April 3 “Ask the Mayor” column, Mayor Alan Arakawa said outreach workers who talked to the homeless people at Baldwin found “that the overriding majority were not truly homeless individuals or families, but ‘travelers’ who were on-island temporarily to surf or to just ‘check out the area.’ ”

But Haiku resident and frequent beachgoer Eloise Engman said she sees a lot of the same cars housing homeless people around the park.

“The people who use the park are all in agreement that it’s a problem,” Engman said. “There’s not just a few people that are having a hard time and crashing there for awhile. It’s becoming homeless central.”

Engman cited issues with garbage, feces and a growing number of broken down cars at the park entrance. It’s no longer a place where people can just kick off their shoes and enjoy the beach, said Engman, who had a pair of slippers stolen once.

Other frequent beachgoers said Tuesday that the homeless people mostly keep to themselves.

“Homeless people have a reason why they are homeless,” Pukalani resident Sarah Maier said. “Instead of just pushing them away, we need more housing and more places for them to be.”

Antone said that the Department of Housing and Human Concerns has been working with the homeless people at Baldwin park and will continue to send in counselors and other service providers over the next few weeks.

“Obviously, the problem goes way beyond Baldwin Beach Park,” Engman said. “It’d be nice if there was somewhere they could go. There only needs to be a shower, a bathroom and a place where people can camp out. I understand why they want to be at Baldwin, but at a certain point it’s just too much.”

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.