Helping Hawaii's homeless with public overnight parking

Helping Hawaii's homeless with public overnight parking
Lincoln Rutledge
Lincoln Rutledge
Representative Calvin Say
Representative Calvin Say
Colin Kippen
Colin Kippen

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Lincoln Rutledge has been living out of his truck since 2004 when he was exposed to chemicals that weakened his arms and legs to the point of disability.

"When I first hit the street—didn't know where I was gonna go, who I was gonna see," described Rutledge.

The 70-year-old, who once served in the Navy and the Air Force, says he doesn't want any handouts—just a peaceful place to park where he won't be hassled.

"If I have to move the truck—that means I got to unload the front seat and put everything back here, 'cause I've got the front seat packed," explained Rutledge.

Offering folks like Rutledge a safe place to stay is exactly what House Bill 535 (House Draft 2) aims to accomplish by moving Hawaii's homeless off the streets and into public parking lots. It would establish temporary overnight parking lots in each County for the homeless, for example – Kaka'ako Waterfront Park. Once they're in, they'll have to stay until gates open again in the morning.  They'll also have to be drug and alcohol free.  In return, officials say they'll be safe and won't be bothered.

Something is wrong in society where we are not paying any attention to those who are needing the help the most," said Representative Calvin Say, who co-authored the bill.  "The mentally ill, our military veterans, our alcoholics, our drug users, and those who are responsible too – our homeless – they can't find a place to live or rent. Tough, but it is a problem that's not going to go away. So let's take it on and let's try to find ways that we can address this population by coming up with ideas such as this nature."

Location is one of the bill's biggest challenges.

"Don't say 'Not in my backyard,' because it's affecting everyone today in all communities per say. It's just that sometimes they're hidden and sometimes they're not," said Rep. Say.

Another major concern is liability, which is why Colin Kippen, the State's Homeless Coordinator, says similar programs on Maui and Kaua'i have failed.

"What they found was that the risk was too great," explained Kippen.  "If you're gonna create a space where people can drive in, you need to be able to guarantee the safety of the people who are in that area."

Instead, Kippen believes the priority should be creating affordable housing.

"If you're living in a tent or if you're living in a parked car, you're still homeless," described Kippen.

Rutledge says it'd be nice to have a place to park and call his own, but for now – he's doing alright.

"I've got a gas stove, I've got a knife, a fork, a spoon. I got all the seasonings that I like," said Rutledge gesturing around at the belongings packed into the back of his truck.

In fact, he says he's lucky. "Very much so. I'm one of the few guys that can stretch out," explained Rutledge.

Several overnight parking programs for the homeless have popped up in California and Oregon. Many of the lots are open from 7 p.m. til 7 a.m. and offer job or counseling services at night.

While local lawmakers admit there are a lot of unanswered questions they need to resolve, they say the point is they're trying to do something to address the growing issue of homelessness in Hawai'i.

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