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Homeless Camper Given Day To Vacate Downtown Kona Beach Park

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Police give a homeless man a day to pack up and move from Honl’s Beach. Photos Courtesy: Terrell Lee

Fifty-two year old Bull keeps his home tidy.

All litter is deposited in the garbage can, and a new rake is propped against the rock wall to manicure the dirt ground as smoothly as a sand trap. Three beach umbrellas are placed systematically to block the sun and passerby glances. 

Bull has been living primarily by himself at Honl’s Beach in downtown Kailua-Kona for a while now. How long exactly, he doesn’t know. The lean and shirtless man with skin bronzed from the sun guesses “years?”

But now the homeless man will have to find a new place to be homeless. The Hawai‘i Police
Department informed Bull, who didn’t give his last name to Big Island Now, that he had to clear
out of the public beach off Ali‘i Drive by noon today.

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The enforcement stemmed from a group email begun by Kona resident Terrell Lee and sent to
the County of Hawai‘i Parks and Recreation Department and media outlets complaining about
the illegal camping. The email included photos of the makeshift camp and umbrellas tucked in
the far south corner of the small beach park where boogieboarding was invented.

“Please enforce the rules!” Lee wrote. “Residents and tourist are being driven away by illegal camping, litter, public urination, residences set up, and general lawlessness condoned and allowed by our elected representatives and government entities charged with protecting the
public resources for ALL of us … not just those who break the law and most likely contribute
little in taxes or commerce to society. These encampments on Honl’s and the Old Airport have
been there for months and grow continually due to inaction from our government.”

Michelle M. Hiraishi, deputy director for Parks and Recreation, responded to the e mail onMonday: “We share your concern with lawlessness in our parks, and deal with illegal camping
on a daily basis as this is an issue that is on-going nationwide.”

Hiraishi said the county’s maintenance staff was at Honl’s Beach Monday morning to address
the issue; and the department was working closely with the police on enforcement.

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Bull said Monday he’s working to meet the police’s deadline to move and has begun to “slowly” pack up all he has in the world. He said his friends were planning to come by later in the day to help.

He said he’s enjoyed his space on the beach with little interference or problems with the public, except for the occasional “haters” who yell things at him from above as they pass on Ali‘i Drive. But he was tired of getting citations that required paying fines or doing community service, which he said he fulfilled.

Bull said part of him isn’t bitter and understands why he has to go, while another part of him
thinks he should be allowed to stay.

Where will Bull go? He said “there are a couple of other places,” but the options he was mulling didn’t involve a real roof over his head.

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Homelessness has been a growing issue in the islands for years. During the legislative sessions, the issue often is a priority among business-support groups, including the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce

The 2022 Point in Time Count, which documents the number of homeless across the state by counting them on a given day, found that Big Island numbers increased slightly in 2022
compared to 2020.

The number of sheltered homeless individuals counted during this year’s count on Hawai‘i Island was 283, an increase from 227 in 2020 and 200 in 2018. The number of unsheltered homeless counted locally was 554. That figure wasn’t available for 2021 due to the pandemic, but up from 521 in 2020 and down from the 669 in 2018.

Jordan Debus, a lifelong island resident who grew up surfing and boarding at Honl’s, said he’s
happy that officials are clearing the beach of illegal camping, despite it being pretty clean in
comparison to other beaches on the Big Island where homeless people illegally camp.

“It’s not always like this,” Debus said of Bull’s tidy camp. “Usually they’re full of trash. They
don’t clean it. There are some good guys, but unfortunately, some bad ones ruin it for everyone.”

Tom Hasslinger
Tom Hasslinger is a journalist who lives in Kailua-Kona. Prior to joining Big Island Now, he worked as the managing editor for West Hawaii Today and deputy editor for The Garden Island newspaper on Kauai. He's worked for over 15 years as a reporter for the Oahu-based Civil Beat news outlet, as well as in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and Douglas Wyoming.
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