Moving day at homeless camp

An estimated 100 illegal campers were cleared out of beach park by police, rangers

Maui police officers make sure a Baldwin Beach homeless camp is empty of campers Tuesday morning. Many of the homeless people in the camp had left before the 10 a.m. deadline. The area once housed dozens of tents and possibly 100 people. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

PAIA — Police and park rangers cleared out the homeless encampment Tuesday at Baldwin Beach Park that they said had become one of the largest on island.

Many people had already left before 10 a.m., which was the deadline the county had given when it posted a notice to vacate on May 2. The grove of ironwoods that once shaded dozens of tents was empty and breezy as a handful of people trudged out with their belongings. Discarded tent poles, boogie boards, chairs and other items sat in a pile near the restrooms.

“You know how much times Lime Kiln, Paia Bay, Baldwin (park) has gone through this?” asked Michel Gibbins, balancing a boxed-up tent on his bike. “They’ve gone through this so much times it’s not even funny any more. They’re going to keep on doing this. Why? Because the locals have nowhere to go.”

Over the past year, the homeless population at the park has grown, and with it resident concerns over leftover trash, feces, drug use and fights. The county had estimated that more than 100 homeless people lived at the park but that 90 percent were travelers from the Mainland.

For park rangers sweeping the beach Tuesday, the knowledge that some chronically homeless would be sent out along with the travelers made the task more difficult.

Nate Spencer drags a tarp loaded with items from the Baldwin Beach campsite known as “Da Puka” on Tuesday morning. Spencer said he has a home but liked staying at the beach. “The thing I’m going to miss is the backyard boys who could play music,” Spencer said. “They could really harmonize.” The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“Some of these guys don’t have the means to go someplace else,” park ranger Chad Gardanier said. But “I’ve got to group all these people together because they’re all doing the same thing illegally. It makes it hard for us because we’re sympathetic to some of these people.”

Gardanier said it was likely that some would be back at Baldwin Beach or another park that evening, but with 137 parks and only two rangers on night shift, it’s tough to keep tabs on everyone.

“As rangers, we tell people to leave, and they move to another park. It’s just a rotation,” Gardanier said. “We don’t have the answer for this. All we know is that they can’t be here.”

Baldwin park had the largest homeless encampment on the island “by far,” he added. Rangers will work with park caretakers and maybe even a work line from the jail to clean up the last of the camp, “cause it’s just too much.”

Gibbins said he woke up Tuesday morning to the sounds of people yelling and packing up. He’d stayed as long as he could but knew it was time to leave. Born and raised on Maui, Gibbins said he got out of prison in January 2016 after eight years.

A pile of debris rests next to an abandoned car and tent Tuesday morning. Police and park rangers cleared out the homeless encampment with an estimated 100 people. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“I choose to be down here because it was a stepping stone,” said Gibbins, who wanted to save some money so he could eventually get a place to live.

“It was the people that would come here one month, two months, and leave all the trash,” he added. “That’s what caused the problem right there.”

Maui police officer Taylor Kamakawiwo’ole said the community knows “that people have hard times, they know that people need a camp or to crash somewhere. But it’s when they start leaving a lot of rubbish like this . . . then the beach starts looking a little rundown and people start getting a little upset.”

It only takes a few people causing problems to ruin it for the rest, he added. As for the concern that homeless camps will just keep rotating through county parks, Kamakawiwo’ole said police will have to “keep responding to where the complaints are coming in.”

Paia resident Gordon Shibaki comes to the beach regularly to walk his dogs and said recently the tents have been looking less like a camping ground and “more like a permanent residence place.”

“I think it’s necessary to do from time to time,” Shibaki said as police and rangers took down a tent nearby. “People living here, everybody is in a different situation. But I think we should clean up. It’s getting worse and worse.”

Susun White, executive director of the Paia Youth & Cultural Center that’s located down the road from the park, sympathized with the homeless people, but she said it had become “an extremely unsafe situation for the entire community.” During community cleanups, staff members and youths had encountered garbage, feces and intact needles. She hoped the area would be safer after Tuesday’s events.

“We realize that there is no easy answer to the islandwide homelessness,” White said. “But it must be a priority to keep our parks safe for our community and visitors.”

Three people who were living at the park have entered the shelter at Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Center, according to Chief Executive Officer Monique Yamashita.

“We’ll be working with them to get permanent housing,” she said.

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

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