Homeless safe zones are catching on — everywhere but Oahu

Updated: Nov. 14, 2017 at 5:58 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The idea of safe zones or legal encampments for the homeless is catching on on the Neighbor Islands.

But the Caldwell administration is still against the concept on Oahu.

The conflict came up Tuesday as the county leaders met to brainstorm solutions to the homeless crisis.

Big Island Mayor Harry Kim created the state's only homeless safe zone this summer in Kona.

As the county works to triple its capacity, Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa says he's hoping to have a temporary legal encampment set up on his island early next year.

"We are actually working with several areas. One of them is Old Maui High School. We have a group that is trying to put the equivalent of a safe zone there. And places where people can actually go park their car at night," said Arakawa.

Arakawa says he's also looking at establishing a mobile home park.

"If we could actually create a trailer park where we're using mobile vehicles and we don't have to go through all the zoning and rezoning process that would take years and years hopefully we'll be able to get this done very quickly," he said.

The mayor of Kauai agrees safe zones are a good thing.

"I believe we need at least one for now," said Mayor Bernard Carvalho.

Carvalho says legal encampments can act as a bridge to get people from the street to permanent housing.

But Marc Alexander, the head of Mayor Kirk Caldwell's housing office, disagrees.

"In the end this does not help the community at all and this does not serve the benefit of those experiencing homelessness," he said.

Alexander says legal encampments often pose health and safety hazards. On top of that they're costly and take money away from solutions that work.

"The only solution is moving people into permanent housing," Alexander said.

The safe zone on the Big Island can house 30 people and has been at or near capacity since it opened.

Initially, the camp cost $23,000 dollars a month to operate.

Twenty-four hour security accounted for more than half the budget. To save money security was recently cut back to eight hours a day. The rest of the time campers monitor the site themselves.

Neighbor islands leaders say safe zones and permanent housing are only part of the solution. What much of their homeless population needs right now is access to mental health and drug treatment, which is almost non-existent.

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