Despite $30M appropriation, little work underway on Ohana Zones

Updated: Nov. 6, 2019 at 8:00 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - It was the most money ever put towards solving Hawaii's homeless crisis.

In 2018, lawmakers put up $30 million for Ohana Zones, leaving it up to the Ige administration to create places for homeless people to come in off the street.

A year and a half later, so-called Ohana Zones are almost non-existent.

So far, there’s been no permanent housing created through the state’s Ohana Zone project.

And only 41 new temporary beds have been added. The majority of those are at a new homeless shelter in Hilo.

Meanwhile, homelessness remains at crisis levels statewide.

John Kaulupali is one of nearly 75 people living on a Kakaako sidewalk near the Gateway Park.

Sitting at a picnic table on a recent day, he said he’d jump at the chance to stay some place permanently.

“We would be more than happy to leave where we’re at today," he said.

Kaulupali said the same thing nearly a year ago, when the encampment he lives in called a news conference. Campers came together to tell government they’d move as long as it was someplace safe where they could stay together.

With so much talk from politicians about building villages for the homeless and affordable housing, Kaulupali questions why more isn’t available.

“If you got that much money to play with, why don’t you get some heads together brainstorm and do something with it?” he said.

Money to start work on Ohana Zones was available immediately after Gov. David Ige signed the bill in July 2018.

Since then, records show, no new housing ― either temporary or permanent ― has been created for adults on Oahu using that money.

A total of 10 new beds were added to a youth shelter in Kailua.

The state announced an Ohana Zone in Maili earlier this year. However, a closer look at the numbers revealed those 80 units are nothing new. The buildings were just re-purposed from a transitional shelter to an emergency shelter. Renovations cost $7.5 million.

Over on Maui, there are just six new beds.

Hawaii Island has made the most progress, launching a brand new men’s shelter in October. Currently there are 25 beds. That number’s expected to grow to 50 by the end of the year.

Scott Morishige, the governor’s homeless coordinator, blamed delays in spending the Ohana Zones money on the way the law was written.

“Because of the broadness of the law it did take time to figure out what types of projects we could allocate the funds for,” he said.

But House Finance Committee Chairwoman Sylvia Luke isn’t buying that. She says the Ige administration never supported the Ohana Zone concept.

“They delayed because they could not understand it. And they didn’t know how to effectively use the money,” Luke said. “Right now as much as we’re trying to do enforcement, there’s no real safe place for homeless individuals to go.”

Back on Ilalo Street, Kaulupali’s time there is running out: Sweeps are moving through the area soon and police have already warned campers this enforcement’s different.

“Anybody left on the streets, if they’re caught sleeping they will be arrested on site,” said Kaulupali.

With pets prohibited at most homeless shelters, he’s uncertain what his next move will be.

Kaulupali said, “If my dog cannot go then I’m not going, too.”

Morishige insists more Ohana Zone projects are expected to come online over the next several months.

He added changes they’ve made to how existing shelters operate have nearly doubled the number of people getting into permanent housing.

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