NORTH KONA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two weeks ago, the Big Island established a "no-frills" safe zone for homeless people to camp legally.
And since then, Mayor Harry Kim's executive assistant has been sleeping there to make sure it gets off to a good start.
Lance Nimi said he wanted to stay at the safe zone, the only one of its kind in the state, so that he could better understand the need of the people being helped.
"I'm a social worker and I know that when you put a lot of people together it's going to be tough and I'm pretty much responsible for this encampment," said Niimi, who until last week served as Hawaii County assistant housing administrator.
Niimi said he's overseeing setting up the structure and supervision of the safe zone, and working with the 31 homeless clients at the site near the Old Kona Airport. Security has been hired by the county, and there are pop-up tents, showers, portable toilers and a schedule for meals.
Niimi said police have been called to break up fights. But overall, he says living here has grown on him.
"Actually this morning I woke up and I thought I better not get too comfortable because I really need to get back to all of my other administrative duties at the office," he said.
Niimi plans to stay at the safe zone for one more week before going back to his Hilo office and home. He believes you need compassion to work with the homeless and says sleeping among them has opened his eyes to their unique challenges and needs.
"After you are there for a while, you really get to know them and that they really are people," he said.
Niimi said the county is looking for more community organizations that are interested in helping to feed the homeless at the safe zone, called Hale Kikaha. Interested groups can call 808-938-2694.