Advocates for homeless residents speak out against Amala’s ‘sweep’
The cleanup effort led by ‘Āmala Place County in Kahului resulted in the removal of 58 tons of solid waste and 54 abandoned vehicles this week, but not all are happy with the process and its impact on the homeless homeless people who lived in settlements in the area. .
Kia’i Pu’uhonua O Kanahā, an advocacy group made up entirely of volunteers, was formed in response to the situation, saying their efforts were aimed at supporting the camp community and the local non-profit association Share Your Mana, who has also been a longtime advocate. .
County officials called the life situation “dangerous”, saying it had become a “danger to public health”. According to the county’s latest update, the deep clean also included a magnetic sweep to locate and remove “small metal objects such as hypodermic needles.”
Members of the Kia’i Pu’uhonua O Kanahā group called the cleanup a “sweep”, saying that residents of the settlement had one week to move out. The group claims the county’s actions during the effort violated the civil rights of Maui’s homeless residents.
The group also said it was putting residents at risk by “ignoring arrest requests from the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai’i and ignoring recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during a pandemic with a number record number of COVID-19 cases in the Maui community.
County officials say that as of December 2020, nearly 80 people were living in the settlement along ‘Āmala Place. “We have been working with them quite significantly since then,” county manager Sandy Baz said during a Friday afternoon press briefing. “Of course the last six weeks, [that] was improved, and social workers as well as the Ministry of Housing and Human Affairs went there almost every day, ”he said,“ working with them to help them find housing ”.
Those who accepted housing reportedly went to homeless shelters, temporary pallet housing in Waiʻale, the Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Center and the Family Life Center. Some have moved into permanent accommodation and many have moved in with families, according to a county update. “There were some for which we weren’t able to provide shelter. They refused the shelter offered to them, ”Baz said.
The advocacy group disputed the county’s response, saying, “As of Friday morning, September 24, there were about 10 residents whose access to shelter was not yet determined.
Noelani Ahia, a volunteer community activist from Kia’i Pu’uhonua O Kanahā, said that about 90% of the homeless population living in Kanahā are kānaka Maoli.
“It is unacceptable that the inhabitants of this place are not housed in their own homeland,” Ahia said. “There is simply not enough shelter space or pallet houses available and some people have circumstances that make shelters not an option. The mayor said he would work with people with extenuating circumstances who cannot make it to shelters, some of whom were encountered in a meeting last Friday. He seemed to understand the complicated nature of their situation and said that agencies would be available to help them. ”
Ahia maintains that “help never arrived”, saying: “Many people dispersed immediately after the arrival of law enforcement and work crews on Monday, suffering severe trauma from previous sweeps. “It would have been much safer to ensure that all of these people had options before the sweeps took place. Much of this distress could have been avoided,” she said.
Baz offers a very different perspective, describing cleaning as “intensive and compassionate” work. He thanked the agencies that helped facilitate the effort.
Earlier in the week, Mayor Victorino said: “I understand how disruptive change can be… but I truly believe it is change for the better for everyone involved. Residents in the area were able to make a fresh start in clean, safe housing with services to help them move forward.
Before the start of the clean-up, Mayor Victorino said: “Taking care of people comes first. It is not compassionate to allow people to continue to live without basic sanitation. Mounds of garbage, human waste and used syringes surround many tents and temporary structures in the area. With the risk of flooding during the upcoming rainy season, now is the time for these people to move to emergency shelters. “
Lisa Darcy, founder of Share Your Mana confirms that there is currently a housing shortage to sufficiently meet the overwhelming need of Maui’s visible and hidden homeless people to live hygienic and sustainable lives. Darcy estimates that there could be as many as 1,000 homeless people hidden in Maui. “Homeless residents have circumstances and conditions that agencies cannot remedy because they have not changed their practices to meet the needs of all residents and make current solutions more effective,” she said. declared.
“This dialogue needs to take place in the larger context of affordable housing in a county with a median house price of over $ 1 million,” Darcy said. “After the housing crash many years ago, the displacement of community members living in rental housing further exacerbated the housing stock crisis. At this time, without the emergence of new flexible entry points that integrate mental health, addiction and trauma needs, this crisis has turned into an overwhelming task. Maui’s housing crisis will continue to worsen without visionary leadership.
Ahia said advocates have a sincere desire to learn these lessons and create systemic change that will prevent such a sweep from happening again. “They want the whole community to know that these residents are ordinary people, just like you and me. They could be your mother, your aunt, your son, or a friend. Many of us are at a salary, an illness, a handicap to be in this same situation. It is high time for Maui County to act and recognize the humanitarian crisis the housing situation has created, and take action to reverse the trend.
In addition to the affordability factor, lawyers made allegations of civil rights violations and worked with the American Civil Liberties Union, which on Tuesday sent letters to Maui Mayor Michael Victorino’s office, police chief. of Maui and other state and county officials, demanding that the sweep cease immediately.
The ACLU has worked to decriminalize poverty and on its website claims that during the pandemic, the counties of Maui and Hawai’i “treated homelessness in a counterproductive, heartless and constitutionally questionable way. “.
The Kia’i Pu’uhonua O Kanahā group argues that the effort was “confrontational, punitive, and not based on supportive, compassionate, and person-centered approaches, which are necessary approaches to help people with illness. mental or drug addiction ”.
Darcy with Share Your Mana said: “The case recognizes that people experiencing poverty do not have equal access to due process. Maui continues to refuse to evolve, allowing problems to multiply.
More no-trespassing signs were put up along ‘Āmala Square on Friday and Baz said police were ready to enforce this to prevent people from returning.
“The Āmala Place encampment has hampered critical access to the state-owned Kanahā Pond Wildlife Sanctuary and the Wailuku-Kahului Wastewater Collection Facility, owned and operated by the county, ”Baz said. “The encampment was a health and safety hazard that endangered the occupants and the general public. “
The challenges and problems, associated with a heavy human presence right next to the shrine, have increased in recent months, according to the State Department of Lands and Natural Resources. According to DLNR, there have been human impacts on the natural resources of the bird sanctuary over the past decade, but over the past year the situation has worsened. Wildlife officials say they haven’t been able to do work like removing invasive weeds as people set up camp right next to the protective fence around the 150-acre sanctuary .
“No homeless have been arrested. None of their personal belongings were thrown away or destroyed, ”Baz said.
Darcy says, “These are all solvable equations and we will fight to insert practices that honor individual civil rights, whether you are housed or not. We must stay in a place of solutions.