Lawmakers ask: Is it time to take another look at homeless safe zones?

Lawmakers ask: Is it time to take another look at homeless safe zones?
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

WAIANAE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Tucked in the brush just off Farrington Highway near the Waianae Boat Harbor is a 19-acre village made of tents, tarps and pallets.

The homeless village has been around for years, but recently, lawmakers have been toying with the idea of making the area a homeless safe zone.

Before giving the go-ahead to a type of legalized encampment, they want more to know more.

Resident Twinkle Borge is just fine with that. She helps to oversee the camp, and sees it as a potential model.

"I've been here since 2003 in October, when there was only seven of us," she said.

Today, there are about 140 people living there, she said.

The average stay: Between two and five years.

But before anyone moves in they go through a background check -- one she pays for.

"The only people I will not allow in here is pedophiles. I do an information sheet on them, see where they came from, how I can help them. Then I'll go out and find the resources I'll set them up with one appointment and if they need transportation I will also take them," Borge said.

Unlike most camps, this one has rules, too. Break them and you're out.

Over the past six years, Borge says she's helped close to 200 people find permanent housing and connected dozens more with jobs and addiction treatment programs.

Resident Shirley Susa started working at a restaurant a year ago.

"Trying to establish myself with this job so I can save money and move out," she said.

But critics argue camps like this one keep people from getting help quickly.

"Oftentime safe zones are being operated by people who don't necessarily have the clinical, medical or social service expertise to really deliver and serve their population. It really becomes a place for people to congregate and continue using and continue their homeless lifestyle," said Kimo Carvalho, spokesman for the Institute for Human Services, which operates homeless shelters and programs.

Carvalho said sanitation and safety are also major issues.

"There are health issues such as staphylococcus and Hepatitis C.  If the state wants to move forward with a legal safe zone the Waianae Boat Harbor is definitely not something to replicate across the state," said Carvalho.

Lawmakers are expected to decide Thursday whether or not to move forward with the study.

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