Amid debate about homeless safe zones, 9 possible sites identified

Amid debate about homeless safe zones, 9 potential sites on Oahu are identified
Updated: Dec. 21, 2017 at 8:28 PM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Homelessness in Hawaii has been at crisis levels for years.

Homeless squatters are now the top source of police complaints, and they've been at the root of multiple parks closures. The homeless, experts say, are also part of the reason why Hawaii's jails are full and its emergency rooms are so busy.

As the state, city and police struggle to keep homeless campers off public property, some are now looking at whether Hawaii should offer homeless people a legal place to camp.

"We're facing a situation now where we're seeing growing numbers of people living outdoors so we want to identify vacant land that we do have and continue the discussion during the legislative session on how we may be able to move forward," said Scott Morishige, the governor's homeless coordinator.

Over the past six months, Hawaii's Interagency Council on Homelessness has been gathering information to help lawmakers decide if legalized camps would benefit Hawaii.

A new report identifies nine vacant land parcels on Oahu where campsites might work.

The study also details the operating costs of four authorized safe zones in Hawaii and on the mainland.

Read the Interagency Council on Homelessness study on safe zones by clicking here

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New Mexico's Camp Hope had the lowest budget — of $8,000 a year. Kona's Camp Kikaha was the most expensive, with an annual budget of $254,484.

The report also provided a partial estimate of what a couple illegal encampments cost.

Recent damage at Kakaako Waterfront Park totaled more than $500,000. In addition, park staff say the unauthorized camps have increased their utility bills because people tap into the water and electricity.

In Waianae, the water bill at the boat harbor, where there's a large homeless camp, now exceeds revenue generated by boat harbor fees. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources also believe the boat harbor camp has negatively impacted environmental and cultural resources on the property.

Meanwhile, the city and a number of homeless advocates continue to oppose so-called safe zones.

"It ends up increasing homelessness because it becomes even more attractive," said Marc Alexander, the executive director of the mayor's Office of Housing. "We support the expansion of our navigation center Hale Mauliola as well as the State's family assessment center which are effective in getting people off the street and into permanent housing."

Hawaii's only safe zone in Kona has only been up and running a few months.

On Monday, the state provided Hawaii County with $25,000 to keep it operating. Officials say they want to learn as much they can from that project as they think about trying it elsewhere.

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