Homeless Villages proposal up against deadline

KAILUA-KONA — An African proverb contends raising a child “takes a village.” Hawaii County contends in a new bill moving through the state House of Representatives that the same concept must be applied to address the Big Island’s homelessness crisis.

House Bill 2461, introduced by Rep. Nicole Lowen (D-North Kona) at the request of county officials, proposes a Hawaii County Homeless Villages Program under the umbrella of the state Department of Human Services.

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The program would fund 50 homeless units — 25 at two sites in Kailua-Kona and Hilo, respectively — as well as two homeless assessment centers and supportive services under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s preferred Housing First model, which stresses getting the homeless housed first and dealing with any other issues they may face simultaneously or afterward.

The bill is backed by Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim and his Executive Assistant Lance Niimi, who specializes in combating the island’s homelessness problem.

Niimi said the proposal would include units for both individuals and families, and space would be provided for homeless living in vehicles who would be granted access to community centers with amenities like bathrooms, communal showers, lockers, mailboxes and a kitchen. He said each site could theoretically support up to 100 people.

The House measure is connected to the county’s proposed permanent homeless site on 15 acres of recently acquired state land near Kealakehe High School dubbed “Village 9.”

The controversial proposal for Village 9 first came about last summer after the Hawaii Police Department ushered dozens of homeless out of Old Kona Airport Park, where many had been residing illegally for months, or even years.

HB 2461 is the county’s first attempt to establish funding for the project, for which Niimi said a master plan is currently being drawn up with an environmental assessment to follow. The EA would provide an opportunity for public input on the project, namely the location, with which community members have already raised concern.

“We’ve got to talk about all of the potential solutions,” Lowen said. “In reality, people are creating their own villages in places where they just end up congregating, like Old (Kona) Airport, and that hasn’t been positive.”

“I know (the location) has been controversial,” she added. “I think there would have to be time to talk to community members and make sure everybody is on the same page before moving forward. It has to be a really transparent public process.”

The bill would appropriate nearly $1.2 million from the state’s general fund for fiscal year 2018-19 to pay for construction and infrastructure. It would pull an additional $1.36 million for the two sites’ “management, maintenance, and day-to-day operations” for the same time period. The latter would be an annually recurring fee for as long as the sites exist.

HB 2461 has cleared the House committees on Health and Human Services and Housing with amendments. Those amendments include establishing a special fund for appropriated monies, removing a previously included waiver of county permitting and construction fees, and changing the bill’s effective date, which Lowen said is standard practice.

The measure’s next hurdle is the House Judiciary Committee, where a hearing for the bill must be filed by today. The bill must then be heard and moved out of committee by Thursday if it is to survive. If it does, it next heads to the Committee on Finance.

Niimi said even if the bill dies today or somewhere farther down the line, the county’s plan for permanent homeless sites in Kailua-Kona and Hilo will live on.

“We do the best we can to look at funding sources and the Legislature is obviously one, so we have to put the effort in,” he said. “I think if it doesn’t get funded, we still got to look at some other way to fund or address the plans.”

Niimi mentioned grant proposals and other philanthropic avenues, specifically a grant application the county filed last year with Bloomberg Philanthropies for what Niimi said he believed to be $100,000.

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Mayor Kim testified in favor of the bill, saying it would create “a sense of belonging and of ohana” among the homeless who would reside there and connect “people with services based on need through a one-stop center.”

Scott Morishige, Gov. David Ige’s coordinator on homelessness, also submitted written testimony in favor of sections of the legislation, namely the appropriations for homeless assessment centers, with the stipulation that such appropriations not infringe upon or replace monetary priorities for homeless initiatives set forth in the Executive Budget.

  1. Pest Outwest February 13, 2018 6:00 am

    Of course, these people are going to pay zero attention to the lessons of history, or even next door. What happens when you provide free housing? It gets trashed, because the residents have no interest in maintaining the property. We learned that after spending so much money on public housing during the “Great Society” program, that it was later calculated if we had simply given the poor the money spent, they no longer would have been poor. Almost all that housing was later demolished.

    And what happened in Oahu when they set up a homeless camp with common restrooms? Said restrooms were destroyed, cans plugging up the toilets (cans??), the water left running, garbage piling up. It got to the point where no one was using the restrooms and the nearby water is being fouled with human waste.

    The problem is that these well-meaning individuals somehow believe the homeless will behave in a reasonable fashion. They won’t, that’s why they’re homeless.


    1. angkoldoy February 13, 2018 12:54 pm

      Agree, kinda like letting your ohana live in your second home. 50/50 chance of getting trashed. Ownership is an often misunderstood concept.


  2. shirl February 13, 2018 7:49 am

    I thoroughly agree with Mr. Pest. Life is expensive here and every one needs to do there share to make
    things equal. People who contribute nothing means the people who contribute will have to pay more.
    I have seen this time after time year after year. Takers keep growing because the people we vote
    for year after year let them. Cleaning up Mamalahoa Scenic Hwy. would would be a good job for
    some of the Homeless and perhaps would give a lesson in motivation and self respect. This is
    wishful thinking as asking them to help with their upkeep would be attacking Their Civil Rights.


    1. Pest Outwest February 13, 2018 9:41 am

      Well yeah, I totally agree that spending our tax money would be an excellent idea in two areas.

      First, “make work” programs. Anyone who wants a job and can’t find one, for whatever reason, criminal background included, should be able to find work with the county or state on public works projects. Naturally, they would be subject to the same requirements as any other employee, you show up on time and you do the work, without being a filthy drunk while you’re on the job. Tow the line, and you get paid and housed, no questions asked, even if you’re a total meth head on your free time. No judgement if you’re willing to work.

      Second, child care. Whatever the problems of their parents, children should not suffer. No child should be allowed to live in abject poverty on this island, but no parent should be rewarded for merely having children and being on the public teat. We should set minimum standards for living conditions, and if those are not met, the child is removed from that situation. Not to say they should be forcibly divorced from the parents, there should be liberal visitation rights, so long as the parent is not obviously drunk, high or unsanitary. But we should not allow children to live in squalor.

      Neither of these ideas would have a snowball’s chance in Kohala of being adopted. But one can dream.


  3. Buds4All February 13, 2018 10:26 am

    I DON”T SEE THIS AS GOING TO BE A PROBLEM OF ANY SORT. Should have been by a grade school!

    “The House measure is connected to the county’s proposed permanent homeless site on 15 acres of recently acquired state land near Kealakehe High School dubbed “Village 9.”


    1. Pest Outwest February 13, 2018 5:37 pm

      That has a vaguely reminiscent sound to it . . . oh yeah, “District 9”. Are they going to call the residents “prawns”?


  4. jim williams February 13, 2018 3:20 pm

    Decades of uncontrolled liberal Democrat policies in this wonderful place has led to a myriad of problems, one being the proliferation of chronic homelessness. AUWE


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