Bold plan before lawmakers would create scores of 'villages' to house homeless

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As many as 80 permanent homeless "villages" would be sprinkled across the state under a proposal getting support at the state Legislature.

A bill under consideration would establish scores of the so-called Puuhonua sites, in which tenants would live in cheap, dome-shoped permanent housing.

There are five locations being considered as part of a first phase, and each community would be made up of up to 100 tiny homes.

Among the proposed locations: Sand Island Recreation Area, Barber's Point Beach Park, Kahuku Point Beach Park and the abandoned Job Corp Center across from the rifle range in Hawaii Kai.

The measure is getting early backing, though legislators stress there's more work to be done to make it a reality.

"I read through it and I was like this is great," said Republican state Rep. Andria Tupola, whose district includes Nanakuli and Ewa Villages.

Tupola said while the villages offer a permanent solution, she realizes some neighborhoods might not be so welcoming.

"This concept would have to be taken from community to community, island to island, to really get the community to understand it," Tupola said.

The estimated cost of building all 80 villages comes in at just under $200 million — a fraction of what traditional construction would be.

Some basic medical care would also be provided onsite along with drug and mental health treatment.

Those services come with an added price tag of $208 million a year.

The proposal envisions people in existing homeless camps transitioning together into a village.

But a spokesman for the state's largest homeless service provider says that's often a bad idea, especially if drugs and mental illness are involved.

"You really need to design facilities that are tailored to individual sub-populations," Institute for Human Services spokesman Kimo Carvalho said. "If you mix it all together you're actually going to have an unsustainable community that's not really going to lead to any type of success."

The bill has been referred jointly to the House Housing and Human Services committees. If it survives it goes to the Finance Committee.

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