Emergency calls soar for homeless in Hawaii

An encampment of homeless people around the University of Hawaii medical school has been exhausting emergency resources

By Dan Nakaso
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

HONOLULU — Paramedics, police and sheriff’s deputies are spending a lot more time answering emergency calls at the Kakaako homeless encampment, handling everything from psychiatric cases to assaults.

In the first six months of this year, the city Emergency Medical Services responded to 68 calls in the area around the encampment of wood-reinforced tents and tarps that winds around the University of Hawaii medical school, Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center and Kakaako Waterfront Park.

If the pace of calls for the first half of the year holds, the total responses would far surpass the 80 calls that EMS handled in the area that includes the encampment for all of 2014.

There were also more calls to EMS every month this year than the year before — except for the month of May, which had only eight calls compared with 11 in May 2014.

“It is certainly quite sad that things are at this point,” said Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga, who represents the area. “The concern we have been expressing for the last year is that things are very bad and they’re getting worse.”

Previously, the Honolulu Police Department reported that it responded to 29 “simple assault” reports in the first six months of the year, compared with 13 in the first half of 2014.

At the same time, the category of “aggravated assault” jumped to seven in the first six months of this year from one report in the first half of 2014.

State sheriff’s deputies, who have joint jurisdiction for the area, saw the number of their “assault” responses increase to 11 in June from six in May.

EMS typically responds jointly with HPD and sheriff’s deputies to crimes that involve injuries. It has handled 27 assault cases since August 2013, according to EMS data.

EMS did not break down the types of cases it handled each month.

But since Aug. 1, 2013, the single biggest category — “unknown sick” — represented 48 calls, followed by 27 ”assaults,” “breathing problems” (18), “traumas” (15), “pregnancy related” (six), “psychiatric” (four) and “hemorrhage/laceration” (four).

Gov. David Ige’s 3-week-old Governor’s Leadership Team on Homelessness continues to figure out how and when to begin clearing out the first homeless people from the outer edges of the encampment, which at one point grew to an estimated population of 300 after many of them were forced out of economic centers such as Waikiki, downtown and Chinatown by the city’s new ban against sitting or lying on sidewalks.

A census has been conducted of the people living in the encampment and Ige said Monday that the population had dropped below 300, but he declined to be specific until all of the data are released.

Fukunaga said the EMS information “basically substantiates what we have been seeing for a very long time.”

At the same time, she said she’s happy that state, city and federal officials are meeting on a weekly basis to figure out what to do about homelessness in general, and the Kakaako encampment in particular.

“I’m saddened by the severity of the complaints and the kinds of events that have been occurring,” Fukunaga said. “But I’m glad that we all seem to be working together as quickly as we can to find locations that are suitable for families and individuals and other folks that need housing.”


©2015 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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