State aims to sweep hundreds from 'model' homeless camp in June

State aims to sweep hundreds from 'model' homeless camp in June
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

WAIANAE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state wants to evict residents from Oahu's largest homeless camp as early as June, officials told the Waianae Neighborhood Board this week.

The camp, called Puuhonua o Waianae, has been called a model nationally for its strong sense of community and tough rules for occupants. Just over 200 residents live on the property near the Waianae small boat harbor.

And those who live there say while they understand they're on state land, they're hoping for a resolution that will make everyone happy.

It's unclear whether that will happen.

The state's homeless czar, Scott Morishige, told the Waianae Neighborhood Board on Tuesday that the goal is to "transition people to other options" by early June. He said the Land Board will take up the issue at its meeting March 23.

"It's really been a question on how to balance the Department of Land and Natural Resources responsibility for managing state land and the cultural and environmental resources with the needs of the people who are residing there," Morishige said.

The state wants to create a marine educational science center on the property.

At the same neighborhood board meeting, representatives from the camp said they were disappointed in the state's decision and have called on any timeline for a sweep to be put on hold until a plan for moving residents is agreed on.

Neighborhood board members shared those sentiments, and one member called the state's moves "shady" and "not pono."

Cindy McMillan, communications director for the governor, told Hawaii News Now on Thursday that the Ige administration is talking to residents of the homeless camp and the surrounding community "and beyond that, we're just not going to be commenting."

"Our office continue to work very closely with the residents there, with the community there and we have made a commitment not to speak publicly about the transition plans while those conversations are ongoing," she said.

Supporters of the camp have acknowledged it's on public land illegally, but have called on the state to ensure its residents are transitioned to another property or other housing options.

State Rep. Josh Green, chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, said if the Waianae camp is swept before there's a plan in place to move its residents to stable living situations, "it's immoral."

"I am going to really blow a gasket if they take 200 of the most beautiful children and struggling moms and dads and dislocate them," he said. "That's not acceptable. That's not OK. There has to be a plan in place."

Village leader Twinkle Borge has said the encampment can't be treated like those in the urban core.

"No loud noises after 8 p.m. especially when it's a school night for our kids," Borge told Hawaii News Now last month. "No stealing, I'm not going to deal with that. Stealing and sex offenders are the reasons why I will kick you out."

She has said she wants to work with the state in planning a smooth and peaceful transition and doesn't want to see a community that's worked hard to help others heal and thrive to be lost in a sweep.

Last month, Borge and others even offered guided tours of the homeless camp, which has been there for more than a decade, in hopes of rallying support. More than 500 people attended the so-called open house and spoke to those who live there.

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