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Homeless service providers raise questions, offer suggestions about clearing Kakaako encampment

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Officials have yet to release any specific details, but local homeless service providers are sharing their concerns and suggestions for success after reports the governor and Honolulu's mayor have agreed on a plan to remove a growing tent city in Kaka'ako.

Outreach workers who serve that community tell Hawaii News Now they weren't included in any final decisions about how to effectively address the needs of the homeless who live there -- and they're hoping they will still get a chance to share their input before any action is taken. 

Executive Director Scott Morishige of PHOCUSED (Protecting Hawai'i's Ohana Children Underserved Elderly and Disabled), an asssociation of social service providers that has studied the homeless situation in Kaka'ako, says there is a general consesus among those non-profit organizations that displacing the people who live there without a permanent solution in place could make getting them off the streets tougher in the long run. 

"What we've seen in Kaka'ako, I think, is that there was a pretty stable organized group of households there and I think within the past few months or so when you had new individuals moving into the area -- partly as a result of some of the recent city enforcements in the Downtown and Chinatown area --  that did have a destabilizing effect on the community," said Morishige. 

45-year-old Bernandine Lalosin, who has lived in Kaka'ako for the last nine months after losing her apartment when she couldn't afford the increase in rent, says she has experienced that first-hand. 

"When you get new faces coming in that's where it creates new problems. The more compact you are next to each other, the more pressure it is," described Lalosin, who likes the idea of a safe zone but says  ever-changing policies concern her. 

"If there was a safe zone we would have been in it a long time ago.  When we got ticketed at Ala Moana park, the cops told us to come here where you can hitch up your tent and you don't have to worry, but now they're saying oh no you can't.  Instead they're making us leave by shoving us somewhere else -- I mean, that's not solving the problem," said Lalosin.

The Institute for Human Services Community Relations Director Kimo Carvalho says safe zones have proven effective when the rules are clear. 

"A safe zone is a place that you can go to for refuge and to avoid criminal acitivity and violence and access services that guide you into a home or shelter setting that is ultimately the goal to access services to get off the street," said Carvalho.  

Hawaii News Now reached out to both the governor and Honolulu mayor's office for additional details, but none were provided. 

The mayor and governor reportedly agreed on a plan to shut down the huge Kakaako homeless camp and move its residents to a managed 'safe zone' elsewhere in the area last week Friday. Sources tell Hawaii News Now that rising crime tied to homeless campers was one big reason for moving as soon as possible. The state is handing some law enforcement and land management jurisdiction over to the city.

The mayor met with social service providers last week to alert them that their help will be needed to address the problems of the camp, which is believed to have as many as 200 tents and structures. It developed as a result of tough enforcement by the city elsewhere and word among the homeless is that they would not be hassled in Kakaako.

Sources say the removal of the Kaka'ako encampment could happen in the next two and four weeks, but first the homeless who live there will be given advance notice and the opportunity to meet with social workers and housing facilitators.

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