Lt. Gov. Green criticizes homeless sweeps, proposes new plan to create more housing

Updated: Oct. 1, 2019 at 8:21 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - For the first time, Lt. Gov. Josh Green is officially coming out against homeless sweeps, rejecting a key tactic in the current administration's attempt to address the continuing crisis.

Green said exclusively to Hawaii News Now, “Sweeps don’t work ultimately because it disrupts people’s lives. There’s more crime. It’s not a solution unto itself.”

Instead of the constant shuffle, Green announced a new partnership with a local non-profit that’s volunteered to create master-planned communities for the homeless.

The concept is modeled after Community First! Village in Austin, Texas. A neighborhood built especially for addicts and people suffering from mental illness — all of whom spent years living on the street.

More than just tiny houses, it’s a place where residents can find help getting off drugs.

Everyone pays rent, between about $200 to $400 a month. And many have jobs right on site. The community has its own market, an outdoor cinema, even a car care center.

“As homelessness surges across the country, these kind of communities are going to pop up everywhere,” said Green.

Just back from the Lone Star state, Green wants to build smaller versions of these master-planned neighborhoods in Hawaii.

“What we saw at Community First, by putting together small houses in a community, people felt a sense of belonging,” he said. “People are actually paying their own way. That’s important. These have to be sustainable.”

To make the idea a reality Green has forged a partnership with HomeAid Hawaii.

The local non-profit specializes in creating housing for the homeless. This marks the first time the agency’s ever teamed up with the government on a project.

“HomeAid stands ready to mobilize the building industry and our private sector partners to bring in what we do either pro bono or very deeply discounted,” said executive director Nani Medeiros.

The lieutenant governor says possible locations are being looked at in Waianae, Waimanalo (across from the beach park) and in the urban core (off Middle Street).

Pre-development work is underway in town and at the Waimanalo location.

Medeiros says, “We’re having engineers and architects look at it, to tell us if we can build, and what does that look like.”

She says for this to work, the non-profit’s counting on government to provide infrastructure — and help cutting through red tape that often delays construction projects.

Another key component: support from the community.

“Part of the Kauhale model is the community engagement piece. And it’s both neighbors who will be living in the village and also the neighboring community,” said Medeiros.

When it comes to cost Green says he estimates 100 tiny homes can be built for $2.5 million. He says money would come from a combination of government funding and donations.

“Throwing people away doesn’t do anything. They suffer. They cost a fortune at our hospitals and they go back to suffering. In the middle we all worry about it. This kind of place will restore their life,” Green said. “Give us six months and a free hand to go and we can do this with HomeAid.”

If the project gets the go ahead Green says the hope is to break ground on the first Kauhale village sometime next year.

He foresees 12 villages statewide.

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