Homeless Villages bill dies

KAILUA-KONA — A bill to fund two Big Island homeless villages died in the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Tuesday after clearing its first two committees.

House Bill 2461 would have established a Hawaii Island Homeless Villages Program and appropriated more than $2.5 million from the state’s general fund in fiscal year 2018-19 to construct, manage and maintain a site in Kailua-Kona near Kealakehe High School known as “Village 9,” as well as a site in Hilo.

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Annual management and maintenance costs for the two villages would have amounted to $1.36 million in perpetuity had the measure passed, assuming appropriations and monetary need remained the same.

Lance Niimi, executive assistant to Mayor Harry Kim specializing in homelessness, said each homeless village would have provided 25 alternative-style units for families and individuals alike, 50 total, as well as a community and assessment center at each location. The areas would also have created space for homeless living in vehicles who would have had access to community center facilities, such as showers, communal bathrooms and a kitchen, Niimi said.

The county projected each site would support upwards of 100 individuals.

Carolyn Tanaka, state House spokesperson, said Monday the Judiciary Committee would need to schedule a hearing for HB 2461 by Tuesday, as well as hear the bill and move it out of committee by Thursday, or the measure would fail.

James Gonser, another House spokesperson, confirmed Tuesday that the committee had not scheduled a hearing for the bill.

Village 9, the proposed site in Kailua-Kona, has been an issue of some debate in West Hawaii for several months.

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The county recently procured 15 acres of land near Kealakehe High School, on which Niimi said it plans to situate a homeless camp of some sort despite the failure of HB 2461. He said Monday the county will pursue other forms of funding moving forward.

Planners are currently drawing up a master plan for the site and an environmental assessment will follow. The community will have a chance to offer comment as part of the EA process, during which it is expected many will oppose the location of the proposed site due to its proximity to a public school.