HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Despite opposition from the city, safe zones from the homeless are gaining support in this year's legislative session.
Right now, there's only one safe zone — or legal homeless encampment — in the state, Camp Kikaha in Kona.
With the homeless ranks soaring on the Big Island, Mayor Harry Kim said Hawaii County officials needed to come up with creative solutions.
"I think it's way past time to wake up, that it is beyond a crisis. We better recognize that this is a state of emergency," he said.
State Rep. John Mizuno, chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, said a number of measures are being introduced to set up these zones, which provide temporary shelter, security, food, restrooms and access to social services.
Mizuno said money like the $5 million that Gov. David Ige's administration is requesting for law enforcement to sweep the homeless out of the state's parks could be put to that use.
"Is that money well spent if they sweep them from Kakaako and they come back a week or two later?" said Mizuno.
"We need to come up with a strategy, a paradigm shift on how we deal with homelessness because at the end of the day we are still the highest per capita of any state in the nation."
But city officials question whether safe zones are effective.
Marc Alexander, of the city's Housing Office, said that Seattle, which has had a safe zone program for years, saw it's homeless census increased 9 percent recently. He added that the monthly costs for the Big Island safe zone is about $800 per person, which is too high.
Alexander said programs like the state's family assessment center and the city's Hale Mauliola shelter are more effecting in getting people off the street permanently.
"We know safe zones are very costly, they're ineffective. They do not move people into permanent housing," Alexander said.