Big Island mayor creates no-frills 'safe zone' for homeless campers

Big Island creates 'safe zone' for homeless campers
Published: Aug. 3, 2017 at 9:18 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 4, 2017 at 1:48 PM HST
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(Image: Big Island Video News)
(Image: Big Island Video News)

KONA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - There's nothing fancy about the Big Island's new homeless safe zone.

It's just a row of pop-up tents, a few portable toilets and some showers.

But the people who moved in on Wednesday say it's better than trying to camp somewhere illegally.

"It works. At least we don't get ticketed," said a man who identified himself as Daniel.

Another woman said, "They're providing us showers, bathrooms, water. Stuff like that. A dry spot. A place to be without being harassed by the cops or other people."

Creating homeless safe zones is an idea that's been floating around in the state Legislature for years. But it's always been shot down.

In fact, it's a strategy that hasn't been used since the 1990s when Mayor Frank Fasi created a homeless safe zone in Aala Park.

Sixty-eight people were living in Kona's Old Airport Park when the county launched it's latest clean-up effort. Seventeen went into emergency shelter. Another 20 people went to the safe zone at Hale Kikaha. A shortage of housing prompted Mayor Harry Kim to declare a state of emergency allowing the creation of the safe zone. It's the only one in the state.

"We knew we did not want to play tit for tat and clean here and they go there.  We help them in no way if we do that," said Mayor Kim.

The Big Island sweep did a lot better than similar action on Oahu..where usually less than ten percent go to shelter.

Mayor Kim says the safe zone is a temporary form of transitional housing. He didn't have an exact figure on what it cost but says it wasn't much. Service providers will work with the people here to get them into something permanent.

"We'll learn from this. This will be a template for what we do for the rest of the island," said Kim.

It's estimated between 30 percent and 40 percent of the people who were living at Old Airport Park struggle with drug and or mental health issues. Kim says the island is lacking the resources to get a handle on those types of issues.

Kim says the goal is to move everyone in the safe zone into housing by the end of the year. At that point it would no longer be needed.

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