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.
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.
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.