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Homeless camp "swept" in Hawaii one of nation's largest

HONOLULU -- Honolulu city crews on Thursday began clearing the final section of one of the nation's largest homeless encampments, once home to hundreds of people.

City officials said about 100 remaining homeless people would be affected by the two-day sweeps in a neighborhood of expensive high rises near the center of Waikiki, just steps from the Pacific Ocean.

But others thought that estimate was low. Beatriz Cantelmo, a deputy ambassador with the U.N. World Human Facility, said she counted 278 people still living in the encampment Wednesday, less than 24 hours before crews were set to start clearing them out.

"There's a huge disconnect," Cantelmo said, adding most people she talked to had not seen a case manager in a month.

The section of the camp being emptied was home to many who had lived there for years, despite sporadic sweeps.

Outreach workers this week have been canvassing the encampment and encouraging people to pack their belongings. They informed people who lived there that buses would take them to shelters in Honolulu, Waipahu and Waianae.

But early Thursday, tents still lined the streets. Some families said they still didn't know where they would go or what they would do with their belongings.

"You can expect all the homeless to spill into the other neighborhoods," said Tabatha Martin, who lives with her 4-year-old daughter and husband in a section of camp set to be cleared Friday.

Martin rode around on a bike Thursday gathering footage of the sweep with a GoPro. She estimated about 250 people were still living in the camp when crews showed up in the morning.

"Nobody here has a plan, really," Martin said. "People are under the impression that they're going to come right back."

Loveleen Mori, 27, held her dog and pulled a shopping cart full of her property as she weighed her options. She heard about the buses but couldn't figure out what she would do with her dogs or bicycles if she went to a shelter.

"I just, I don't know where to go with all my stuff," Mori said.

The sweeps in the camp started in early September, but the city has been enforcing rules that prohibit where homeless can set up for years. Concerned business owners and residents have been pushing to clear the encampments, saying they are a nuisance to tourists and a public safety hazard.

Attorneys representing the ACLU and residents of the encampment have filed a lawsuit alleging the sweeps deprive people of their belongings.

The ACLU asked a judge to halt the sweeps, but its request was denied. The next hearing in the case is in December.

Scott Morishige, the state coordinator on homelessness, said social service providers have been going to the area consistently for the past couple of months and have helped 104 people move into shelters or permanent housing.

"They have been engaging interpreters to help with the communication, and they have been making offers of shelter, and not only shelter, but also access to other help and resources to the individuals and families in the area," Morishige said.

On Thursday, smoke filled the air after someone lit a tent on fire in the middle of a block that was about to be cleared. Firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze, and no one was injured or immediately arrested.

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