Mayor seeks state’s help to address emergency shelter shortage

  • Harry Kim (Nancy Cook Lauer)
  • The Kona Police Station can be seen from a parcel of land off Kealakehe Parkway, Mayor Harry Kim’s proposed site for an Emergency Homeless Encampment. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today

  • A Camp Kikaha resident moves her belongings after the encampment at Old Kona Industrial Area was shut down Tuesday. (LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Hawaii Island Mayor Harry Kim is asking for help from the state to expedite the emergency shelter aspect of the proposed Village 9 homeless site off Kealakehe Parkway in Kailua-Kona.

Kim called Gov. David Ige on Friday to request an emergency proclamation that would allow Hawaii County to waive the need for an environmental assessment (EA) at Village 9 before establishing emergency shelter units of some type on 4-5 acres of the county’s 15-acre plot of land there.

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The county will still conduct an EA to allow for public input on use of the location as a permanent homeless site with built-out amenities, but help from the governor would address an issue Kim said is of the utmost importance — the clock.

“It could save us a lot of time, and time is very important for us … as we just closed (Camp Kikaha),” he explained. “Hopefully (a proclamation from the governor) will cut the time down because Village 9 will be for emergency transitional programs and (permanent programs).”

A proclamation from Ige would also expedite homeless housing efforts in East Hawaii, Kim explained, as the county has identified the Old Airport area in Hilo as the east side counterpart to Village 9. The county is still considering several potential sites for a third planned location in Puna.

The mayor added he plans to follow up with the governor on the request at some point this week.

Camp Kikaha was a temporary encampment the county constructed in the Old Kona Industrial Area adjacent to HOPE Services Hawaii for homeless individuals displaced by the August cleanup at Kona Old Airport Park.

Kim declared an emergency proclamation of his own so the camp could go up immediately following the cleanup, allowing the county to bypass code and zoning requirements that would have slowed the process.

Camp Kikaha existed for more than seven months before the county ordered it closed on Tuesday, leaving nine of the homeless people it served without immediate housing options.

Some of those people refused to be wait-listed for spots at HOPE Services Hawaii’s emergency shelter.

Due to procedural elements that accompany the development of Village 9 and its sister sites, such as a bid process, the mayor was unable to commit to what type of structures the county might purchase for the emergency shelter sections of the proposed homeless encampments.

However, a county press release Tuesday referenced a promise from the state to provide Hawaii Island with a sum of $25,000 to purchase code-compliant, fire-resistant tents or igloos, both of which have been previously discussed as options for Village 9.

“We will begin the process of looking for temporary shelters, what is feasible, etc., and some development of temporary-type programs that would lead into permanent programs,” said Kim of the county’s immediate plans should Ige give the go-ahead to proceed at Village 9 before completing an EA.

If successful, the county plans to transition the temporary emergency shelter area into a permanent living area over time.

How exactly the county will pay for Village 9 and its other permanent homeless sites remains up in the air. One-time Capital Improvement Project funds this year, legislative measures allocating monies for Ohana Zones or an increased county share of the transient accommodations tax that would bring in as much as $12 million extra annually are all potential sources.

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The closure of Camp Kikaha was due in part to the price tag of keeping it open, and Mayor Kim said all the aforementioned options would be possible funding sources for immediate construction of an emergency shelter area at Village 9, assuming the governor signs off.

Cindy McMillan, Ige’s communications director, said the state continues to work on the problem of homelessness with all counties but couldn’t provide any details Wednesday as to a potential emergency declaration by the governor.