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County Downs Longtime Hilo Homeless Camp

November 22, 2019, 9:14 AM HST
* Updated November 22, 9:31 AM
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Unpermitted structure removal on Punahoa Street in Hilo took place on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. PC: Hawai‘i County

The County of Hawai‘i has removed a homeless camp located on private property in downtown Hilo after owners of the parcel for months refused to comply with a court order citing several violations.

Excavators, dump trucks, Department of Public Works crews and several police officers took part in an operation that removed approximately a dozen tents, fencing and an illegally constructed concrete slab on the private lot on Punahoa Street.

Cpt. Ken Quiocho, of the Hawai‘i Police Department, said homeless individuals had been frequenting the property for the better part of a year and doing so with the knowledge of lot owners, Elizabeth Jerilyn Rose and Michael Brock Ravenswing.

“It was a haven for a lot of people that were homeless,” Quiocho said. But problems began when “a criminal element started intermingling” with the mainstays there.

He added that police, who were on site Thursday to provide security, encountered approximately seven homeless individuals residing within the unpermitted structures when they arrived at 6 a.m.

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Each person was given roughly an hour to gather their belongings and disperse. What they couldn’t take with them immediately was left near the lot for pickup after the operation ended at around 6 p.m. that same evening, said Barett Otani, executive assistant to Mayor Harry Kim.

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Quiocho said the homeless on site Thursday complied with directives and departed without incident. Police made no arrests.

“It was a very peaceful operation,” he said.

Quiocho added the belief is Rose and Ravenswing, who are named in a court order as owners of the property along with NSHE HI FOXGLOVE LLC and NSHE HI THISTLE LLC, essentially “put it out there” to the homeless community that the location was available for habitation.

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Rose and Ravenswing were not equally as communicative with the County or its courts, according to the release, which said the owners “…were given numerous opportunities to respond to the violations, but ultimately they chose not to do anything.”

A court hearing to address the issue of the unpermitted structures was convened in September, but neither Rose nor Ravenswing appeared. The hearing ultimately led to the court order, which resulted in the County tearing down those structures Thursday.

Ten truckloads of trash and counting were hauled off the site by County crews as of early Thursday afternoon, Otani said. He added the total cost of operations hadn’t been tallied as of that time.

However, the Hawai‘i County Office of Corporation Counsel confirmed that Rose and Ravenswing will be sent the bill.

While individuals residing on the lot were dispersed by police for the duration of the operation, they have not been banned from the lot, Otani explained.

The homeless were free to return to the property as of Thursday evening, but any erection of unpermitted structures would result in arrest for contempt of court under the stipulations of the court order stemming from the September hearing.

“Hopefully, this is going to deter any illegal activities,” Otani said.

HOPE Services regularly visited the camp to offer homeless outreach, Quiocho said, including a day or two leading up to Thursday’s operation.

The organization has a new tool at its disposal to help with outreach in Hilo in the form of the Keolahou Shelter and Assessment Center, which opened its doors this month and is initially providing 25 emergency shelter beds for homeless men.

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