Kauai scrambles for solutions after number of unsheltered homeless doubles

Published: May. 29, 2019 at 7:46 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - No longer just hidden in the Garden Isle’s dense vegetation, Kauai’s homeless crisis is now on display ― everywhere you go.

“It’s right in your face. It’s out front and center," said the island’s mayor, Derek Kawakami.

Kawakami says the epidemic got substantially worse following historic flooding in April 2018.

“All of the Na Pali and Kalalau was shut down," he said. “We started seeing an influx of new homeless individuals that we hadn’t identified previously.”

And a recent count of the island’s homeless population confirmed those suspicions.

The point-in-time census conducted in January found 348 unsheltered homeless people on the island. That’s double the total from a year ago.

“We’re running into problems with individuals who are suffering from several mental health issues that don’t want to comply with any parameters we put up," Kawakami said.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Homeless in Hawaii]

“People that really don’t want the help, they can be threatening and at times a danger to the public.”

Those issues and other homeless problems facing the island were discussed during a recent sit-down between Kauai officials and Lt. Gov. Josh Green.

Earlier this month, Green spent a week traveling the state in an effort to better understand how homelessness is impacting each island and the needs of those communities.

[More from this series: New arrivals who end up homeless test aloha, resources on Friendly Isle]

The Kauai mayor took Green to a site in Lihue, where a pair of projects are in the works.

One of the major plans: Using $2 million from the state to transform Pua Loke Arboretum into Kauai’s first Ohana Zone.

Kawakami wants to model it after Oahu’s Kahauiki Village, located near Honolulu’s airport, with tiny homes and plantation-style living.

“You cannot put Ohana Zones out of sight out of mind and just brush it under the rug," said Kawakami. "And this is key because right across the street we have our KEO homeless services.”

Green agreed.

“We could bring some of the health care. Psychologists and social workers," he said.

Opposite the arboretum is an old parking lot. It will be the site of an affordable apartment complex with a total of 54 units. Work on the infrastructure is starting soon.

During the visit, the mayor told Green it’s going to take a lot more than what the county can do to get a handle on what’s happening.

“Government can’t be the end all cure all on this one," said Kawakami. “We need more shelters. But we need more housing as well."

Robin Danner, leader of the Sovereign Councils of Hawaiian Homestead Association, thinks Native Hawaiians could play a critical role in the solution.

In addition to shops, the Anahola Hawaiian Homestead Association wants to go into the business of real estate.

“We want to own businesses. We don’t need to be Mark Zuckerburg. We just want to make a living,” said Danner.

She added, “We’ve created the WORTH concept. Workforce rental and transitional housing. What we’ve done is taken this model and we’re going to build four-plexes."

The community would be geared towards men ― a place for them to stay for up to two years while they work towards something better.

The plan is to build the first units on a portion of land behind the Anahola Marketplace.

“This kauhale is designed specifically for one-bedrooms and studios," said Danner. "And it would be owned by the homestead non-profit. The use of Hawaiian homesteads under this model is completely within the intent of Prince Kuhio and what he intended a portion of our land to be used for.”

The modular units could be built quickly and are less expensive than a traditional home.

The lieutenant governor says he for the idea.

“I’m taking it to the director of Hawaiian Homelands," said Green. “I’d like to try this. It could be done quickly and it doesn’t break the bank.”

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