A month after opening, Big Island's 'bare bones' homeless safe zone at capacity

A month after opening, Big Island's 'bare bones' homeless safe zone at capacity
Updated: Sep. 6, 2017 at 10:26 PM HST
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One month after Big Island Mayor Harry Kim created the state's only safe zone for homeless campers, the county says it's looking to expand the program.

The current safe zone, Camp Kikaha, is at capacity with a list of people waiting to get in. Now Hawaii County says it's working with the state to obtain a five-acre parcel of land in Kona near the Civic Center. Officials hope to have the deal worked out sometime in October. The plan is to provide up to 100 homeless people with a safe place to camp while they work toward permanent housing.

Camp Kikaha is about as bare bones as you can get: A few open air canopies, showers and some portable toilets. But that's not discouraging many homeless people from lining up to claim a spot.

Linda Vandervoort heads up safe zone.

"I think it just goes to show if there is a safe place for people where they can keep their things, get a good night's sleep, get meals provided when necessary, have shower facilities that they will utilize it," said Vandervoort.

Last month a housing shortage prompted Mayor Harry Kim to declare a state of emergency allowing the creation of the camp. It's currently at capacity with 28 residents. Most were swept from Old Airport Park.

Over the past couple weeks, Vandervoort's been inundated with calls from folks across the island looking to move in. But he has had to turn most of them away.

"We are keeping our focus on the people from Old Airport Park. There are people that are still displaced from there and they're finding out how hard it is to find another place to be," said Vandervoort.

So far, three people have moved out of the camp into shelter or permanent housing. Two more are expected to make that transition Thursday.

Meantime, the island's homeless coordinator, Lance Niimi, is making plans for the future site. He says the plan is to divide the property into three sections: a space for men, women and couples.

"We're also looking at the possibility of tents because it allows for privacy especially for the women in the camp," said Niimi.

They county also wants to build a parking lot for people who live in their cars.

Hawaii County's safe zone operates using the Housing First model.

"We're not requiring people to be clean and sober to be on our site but we're requesting anything they may do be done off the premises. They cannot bring paraphernalia, drugs or alcohol on the property," said Vandervoort.

Since opening, Vandervoort says she's had to deal with a few minor physical altercations. She says there have been no issues with weapons on the property.

According to the county the camp costs about $23,000/mo. to operate. Twenty-four hour on-site security accounts for well over half the budget at $16,000/mo.

Vandervoort says with limited funding the facility is in need of donations. One of the main things she's looking for is people willing to provide prepared food for the campers. The camp also needs, paper plates, pillows, plastic bins with lids and gift certificates.  Vandervoort is also looking for people who would volunteer to give campers haircuts.  Board games, DVDs and other forms of entertainment would also be appreciated.

To inquire about making a donation, text Vandervoort at 808-854-8155.

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