HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Earlier this month, the city hired a private security company to keep squatters out of its parks. Now, the Honolulu Police Department wants the go-ahead to pitch tents for the homeless in parks.
HPD calls it the Lift Zone Project.
The plan would allow the agency to set up inflatable military-style tents in neighborhood parks, providing additional bed space paired with services when traditional homeless shelters are close to capacity.
“Tents are about 20-by-15 or so,” said HPD Capt. Mike Lambert. “What it allows us to do is put up shelters really quickly and take them down really quickly so we can move them around to different parts of the island.”
Lambert heads up the department’s HELP unit, a team that works exclusively with Oahu’s homeless community.
He pitched the Lift Zone idea to the Honolulu Police Commission, saying shelter beds aren’t always immediately available.
“Sometimes we’ve actually had to find the guy the next morning. So there’s a small delay. But what we want is it to be zero delay,” said Lambert.
So HPD is asking the state to fund a three-year, $3 million pilot project.
The idea is to temporarily lift park rules in designated areas.
“What we’re trying to do is identify parks that are underused,” said Lambert. “So we would cordon it off and put up as many tents as reasonable to service the overflow.”
The shelters would operate around the clock for up to three months in any one park. They would also be pet-friendly.
Lambert says residents would be allowed to be slightly intoxicated but not use drugs on-site.
There would be security and service providers to help people transition off the street. But there is a catch...
“For residents to be eligible for the Lift Zone, they have to choose two actual shelters that exist now," he said.
“Once one of those become available they have to accept that shelter service or they will asked to exit the Lift Zone for 30 days.”
Service providers acknowledge that many shelters did lose beds two years ago, following new state rules that required homeless shelters to provide more private space and amenities to clients.
Kimo Carvalho, of the Institute for Human Services, says the law cost them close to 100 beds.
He isn’t sold, though, on whether the HPD project is the right way forward.
“There are definitely moments where certain shelters are full," he said.
"But that has never resulted in an outreach team member not being able to place a homeless client into a shelter option somewhere else.”
The Caldwell administration says its in talks with HPD about the plan.
In the meantime, the governor’s office says it’s still awaiting an official proposal to determine if could be funded as an ohana zone. The Ige Administration’s own proposal for ohana zone money would scatter temporary sites for the homeless across Oahu.