State homeless shelters controversial now and 20 years ago

State homeless shelters controversial now and 20 years ago

WAIMANALO, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Gov. David Ige, who is proposing to build emergency homeless shelters on Oahu will likely run into some of the same opposition that former Gov. John Waihee experienced when his administration built the first three homeless villages on the island more than 20 years ago.

Weinberg Village Waimanalo, one of three Oahu homeless villages that were supposed to be temporary, was opened by the state 20 years ago.  It is the only one of the original three that is still in operation.

Two other state-funded homeless villages in Haleiwa and Waianae opened on Oahu along with the Waimanalo facility in 1994.

"The other two were on private land and they only had a five-year lease, so those two were taken away after the five years and so Weinberg Village is still here because it's on state land," said Holly Holowach, director of Weinberg Village Waimanalo.

Ige told Hawaii News Now Thursday that state officials are evaluating about 20 parcels of unused state land to decide where to build emergency homeless shelters, so the tent cities in Kakaako and elsewhere can be removed.

In 1991, then-Gov. Waihee began what was a three-year process to build those three homeless villages on Oahu.

"It's not easy.  A lot of communities had to be brought in to the idea of having a village for homeless people in their area, but they were successful," Waihee said.

Residents in Manoa and Hawaii Kai fought off efforts to build homeless villages in their neighborhoods in the early 1990s, but, Waihee said, "Alternative forms of housing in general were done.  So while there wasn't a homeless village, for example, put into Manoa, we had affordable housing built."

Holowach, who heads the Waimanalo facility, said people should not be afraid of shelters in their neighborhoods.

"So wouldn't you rather have them in a place where we can give them the support, we can create create programs around them? Case managers can find them, outreach workers can work with them?" Holowach said. "Let's put them some place safe where we can give them the support system that they need and it can't be too far away from the city core."

The Waimanalo transitional housing site is funded by the state for homeless families with children under 18. There are 30 units with rent costing $350 for a studio going up to $700 for a three-bedroom unit.  The units have kitchens and share a coin-operated laundry room.

"They pay to live here.  It's not free.  And they have their own apartments and they take good care of those apartments and we do unit inspections," Holowach said, noting her facility has served more than 4,000 people since it opened in the fall of 1994.

Waihee said in proposing the homeless villages, Ige will learn a universal truth about being governor.

"When you're in that seat, not everybody's going to be happy with what you do, and I believe he's the kind of person that does that, you need to do what you think is right," Waihee said.

Ige said details are still being worked out about the homeless shelters planned for Oahu and he couldn't provide cost estimates or a timetable for when they will open.

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