Homeless housing fast tracked

  • Village 9, as it’s been named, would share space on the 35.7-acre lot (colored green) with an affordable housing development operated by the state. (Map illustration/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Hawaii Gov. David Ige in late 2015 issued an emergency proclamation to address the state’s escalating homelessness crisis.

Two and a half years later, he’s on the verge of doing it again.

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Roy Takemoto, executive assistant to Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim, was in Honolulu Wednesday meeting with Ford Fuchigami, Ige’s administrative director, and others to discuss an emergency proclamation Kim requested from the governor in March.

While the 2015 proclamation allowed for the rapid reallocation of state monies to fund homeless initiatives, the emergency proclamation Takemoto said he believes Ige may issue within the next month would allow counties to bypass certain procedural requirements like environmental assessments to accelerate the construction of temporary, emergency housing at pre-identified sites.

“They seem to have no hesitancy that this is what they need to do,” Takemoto said of the Ige administration.

The timing of the emergency proclamation remains something of a question, as Takemoto explained the governor’s office intends to apply exemptions statewide and is awaiting input from other counties.

“Personally, I have no doubt that the governor will comply with our request,” Kim said. “He wants to work out details to see if Maui or Kauai want to do this and then do it all at once.”

The language of the proclamation also must be carefully crafted and accompanied by adjacent agreements because of the scope of freedoms such a proclamation would technically provide.

“They want to pre-identify the sites because they want to limit the impact,” Takemoto said. “At these sites what could happen is you go in, you can actually do a permanent facility exempt from environmental, procurement and possibly other permit requirements and you could put up a so-called permanent facility.”

The exemptions are likely to last 60 days, during which time agreements would be crafted to guarantee any structures built would comply with code requirements.

“What we’re being exempted from is the procedural requirement,” Takemoto continued. “So where sometimes you have to do things sequentially, this exemption will allow you to do it concurrently to save time. You still need to meet substantive standards of building and fire codes.”

He added that Scott Morishige, Hawaii’s homelessness czar, wants chosen sites to be suitable for a transition to permanent housing as specified in two legislative measures centered around the concept of Ohana Zones, as funding for the projects is likely to come from state money attached to the bills.

House Bill 2281 and House Bill 2753, which both passed through the House and cleared their final Senate committees on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively, are both crafted to develop a pilot program within the Hawaii Department of Human Services to fund homeless housing communities.

The sites would provide the homeless with shelter, hygiene facilities and medical and social services.

“It seems like the governor’s office and other counties are looking to this Ohana Zones bill — that’s still alive — as what this whole proclamation will enable,” Takemoto said.

Ohana Zones would also provide for assessment centers at priority sites in Kailua-Kona, Hilo and Pahoa, which homelessness service providers say are essential elements that must be included in any development initiative.

Proposed project sites on Hawaii Island are 15 acres at Village 9 off Kealakehe Parkway in Kona and a 13-acre parcel on Post Office Road in Pahoa owned by Hilo Missionary Church.

Two adjacent parcels at the old airport in Hilo totaling about 20 acres, owned by the state and the Department of Hawaiian Homelands, respectively, were the county’s planned sites for East Hawaii. However, Takemoto said that changed following Tuesday’s meeting.

Homeless are currently occupying those areas, he added, but the state appears to have plans in the works for one of the parcels. A second concern involves a safety issue, as the land is located under the airport approach zone. Takemoto said preliminary discussions are underway with Hilo entities but new site investigation is still ongoing.

Hawaii County has already obtained a right-of-entry permit to 5 acres at Village 9 where temporary structures can be erected. Assuming Ige makes an emergency proclamation and depending on funding, the county would pursue either fire-resistant canopies or possibly igloo-like structures, the latter of which could be used as permanent housing later on, to set up a code-compliant version of the recently shutdown Camp Kikaha in the Old Kona Industrial Area.

Ige did not respond to a request for comment by press time Wednesday.

Even if granted the go-ahead, Takemoto said the administration still plans to conduct an EA before proceeding with larger permanent sites to allow the public an opportunity to offer input.

The state is in the process of transferring $28,000 to the county as seed money for the initiative, Takemoto said. And if funding doesn’t come through an Ohana Zones program, some of the extra $12 million in Transient Accommodations Tax funds the county would receive annually if Senate Bill 648 becomes law may be another option.

“It’s such a high priority for this county that the TAT would really help, and I’m sure the mayor would allocate something to address this issue,” he said.

Takemoto said the 5-acre area at Village 9 could spatially support up to 100 individuals but that operationally, 30 homeless at Camp Kikaha proved all the county could handle.

Criteria — such as families first and potentially the chronically homeless to follow — would be implemented to fill 30 vacancies at each of the county’s three sites. Spots in emergency housing at the sites would be revolving, however, as efforts to place homeless living there into permanent housing would be ongoing, as would plans for the transition of the emergency shelter sites to permanent housing solutions.

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Takemoto said the county would rely on service provider partners to determine security needs at each location and hopes to staff sites via those providers on a rotational or partnership basis.

“If the last resort is we need county people to staff it, then I guess we would do what it takes,” he added.

  1. KonaRich April 5, 2018 6:16 am

    All the tax paying public will see is a 5 acre tent and igloo, port-a-potty homeless city. They torture other builder and developer with a EA before they even get started. Demand a EA and public meetings first before this eye sore, money pit gets traction.


  2. RW April 5, 2018 6:39 am

    Unbelievable. – In the name of doing good, this project will only encourage and enable homelessness, and create a crime zone around it. – You only have to look at past results and other places that have done similar shelters.


  3. TaroGuy April 5, 2018 7:27 am

    Isn’t Village 9 the location that was supposed to house the judicial center but had to be moved due to the presence of an endangered plant or animal?


    1. KonaRich April 5, 2018 1:05 pm

      your memory is correct it was an endangered Uhiuhi tree on the property, also the US fish and wildlife service to designate part of the site as critical habitat for several other threatened plant species. That is what killed that spot to build in, maybe if they fast track this deal they can bulldoze the trees under before anyone notices there gone. Maybe get this started before the EA study is the reason. Better to ask forgiveness than ask permission. (biz journals 2013)


  4. metalman808 April 5, 2018 9:52 am

    Harry Kim will personally be handing out EBT cards. And waving to us TAX payers as we drive to work.


  5. KonaLife April 5, 2018 11:13 am

    Our own ‘Field of Nightmares” – Build it and they will come.

    When they closed Camp Kikaha, the homeless camp on Pawai Pl (by the Brew Pub), there were 51 residents and of those people only 9 could not or would not find suitable housing according to a WHT article.

    They placed more than 80% of the residents, without creating long-term funding obligations to the taxpayers. I’d also argue that getting them back to their families or in transitional housing is better for the homeless and their long-term prospects of getting help and a chance to live a better life. Seemed like a great “win” for the homeless, the neighborhood and taxpayers.

    Now were going to spend $2 million (projected first year costs assuming no cost overruns) to create igloo housing in barren lava field, a few miles from the places where many homeless pan-handle, collect cans, and, yes, buy and use drugs and alcohol. I believe it will have an initial capacity of around 50 “residences”, which is about $40,000 per unit for the first year. Second year costs are probably half that, so we’re looking at about $60,000 per igloo (with associated support costs), for two years, which is the median household income for Hawaii Island per year.

    So, I ask those planning this:
    1. We had great success in moving more than 80% of our Camp Kikaha homeless population off the streets by providing placement services and closing the camp. Nine would not or could not be placed. Is that why we’re calling this Camp 9?
    2. Are you going to provide a shuttle to business district so that the recyclers, pan-handlers and users can do their business? Seems only way I can imagine you’ll get anyone to live there. And, no, this is not a joke.
    3. You’re going to spend a huge amount of money on this, and there is no planned phasing out or closing of Camp 9. Should the taxpayers just plan on paying into the indefinite future?


    1. paul April 5, 2018 4:26 pm

      well written…..Konalife for Mayor……….you got my vote


    2. Scooby April 5, 2018 6:04 pm

      Harry Kim is surrounded by a bunch of useless staff that won’t speak up and tell him he’s wasting taxpayer money going down this road. Where’s his finance director and his legal advisor? Oh I forgot, Joe got a $40,000 raise and Sako got a $22,000 raise. $62,000 reasons they will never go against Harry. We are doomed!


  6. kreeper April 5, 2018 11:45 am

    How is putting a homeless camp across from a school a good idea? Not to mention that the very heavily used walking paths will be overrun. You already have to dodge sidewalk sleepers if you walk early or late. Why do we make nice areas then let the homeless take them over?


  7. Luter April 5, 2018 7:26 pm

    Reagan said about government,”If it moves tax it, if it keeps moving regulate it, if it stops moving subsidize it.” We are seeing that everyday in Hawaii Government. We are renaming Hawaii government, “Department of Waste.”


  8. pieter April 6, 2018 2:21 am

    Will there be a bus service for homeless to go to town or will they hang out at the Civic Center all day long? Really, what is their economic opportunty in such an isolated location?


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