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New homeless camp springs up on lot cleared by county

A homeless camp that was dismantled late last year is being reassembled on the same downtown Hilo lot, to the consternation of its neighbors.

In November 2019, a collection of makeshift shacks and tents was removed from a vacant lot on Punahoa Street between Ponahawai and Mamo streets, and the owners of the property were ordered to keep the lot clear of unpermitted structures.

During March, however, the empty lot once again began to attract a small but growing homeless community that has set up tents and tarps on the lot.

“I think it started about three weeks ago,” said Irene Agasa, co-owner of the adjacent Agasa Furniture and Music Store, on Wednesday. “But it’s been getting bigger and bigger lately, and it’s progressing faster.”

Hilo’s homeless population has been a problem for years, but the new camp now poses a potential public health threat that the previous camp did not, given the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Agasa said she has had to sanitize her shop more frequently because the camp’s population often gathers around her store’s loading zones, contrary to social distancing guidelines that discourage needless socialization and advocate for maintaining six feet of distance between people.

Agasa said the people living in the camp also are occasionally belligerent, shouting at passersby and keeping unruly dogs.

While her business is closed as per Gov. David Ige’s order to close nonessential businesses until April 30, she still has to regularly attend to the store, and the situation has created an uneasy environment for her, she said.

Unlike the previous camp, the new camp does not appear to have been created with the direct support of the property owners.

The previous camp was constructed on an unpermitted cement foundation and surrounded by an unpermitted chain-link fence, both of which were installed by property owners Elizabeth Jerilyn Rose and Michael Ravenswing. The current camp has no such infrastructure.

Rose declined to comment on the nature of the camp, simply saying Wednesday: “They took down my fence. I have no control over it.”

Because of their failure to remove the unpermitted structures from the lot for the better part of 2019 — despite frequent notices from the county to do so — Rose and Ravenswing owe the county $177,000 in accumulated fines.

The county’s Real Property Tax Division has assessed the value of the property at $136,900, and the county has filed a motion to seize and sell the property to help recoup those fines.

Hawaii County Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela said the county has filed a motion for a writ of attachment, execution and sale of property, which will be discussed in a hearing on April 6 — although, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the hearing will be conducted remotely.

“Basically, we want to hire a commissioner to sell the property,” Kamelamela said.

Kamelamela added that the health risks associated with gatherings of people during a global pandemic are an extra impetus to quickly resolve the issue and renew the county’s enforcement of the property.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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