Creating homeless encampments to alleviate the state’s growing problem of homelessness is a bad idea, according to a 2012 report submitted to the Legislature by the Hawaii Interagency Council on Homelessness, a 24-member task force created by Gov. Neil Abercrombie and composed of state and city officials, homeless providers and community leaders.  

Critics point to the report as a reason to oppose a plan by Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration to relocate about 100 homeless people to a vacant land on Sand Island.

Creating camping areas for homeless “is unworkable, is not advisable, and should not be pursued,” according to the report, which focused on evening-only encampments. The mayor’s proposal would keep the site open 24 hours a day.

“This proposal diverts scarce resources away from creating a path to permanent housing for homeless individuals by condoning, if not encouraging homelessness and the continuance of a nomadic lifestyle,” according to the report. 

Sand Island site where City and County of Honolulu is proposing Housing First Transition Center. September 9, 2104.

The Sand Island site where the City of Honolulu is proposing a Housing First Transition Center.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

The report says that that encampments are expensive to operate, can’t guarantee the safety and well being of homeless people and aren’t able to provide the necessary support services that are presently available in shelters. Homeless people may also not want to move into the camps, according to the report. 

Under the city’s Sand Island proposal, the homeless would be required to bring their own tents, while the city would set up portable toilets and showers, storage lockers and a larger tent. There would be private security guards, on-site counseling and shuttles to bus hubs twice in the morning and twice in the evening.

The report was discussed during a Wednesday City Council hearing, in which Councilman Breene Harimoto argued that the city’s plan amounted to a camp.

City Managing Director Ember Shinn countered that the proposed homeless site, which has been named the Sand Island Housing First Transition Center, would not be a campsite. 

“The notion of safe zones, encampments, tent camps, tent cities — those don’t work,” said Shinn. She said that the city aims to move homeless individuals into permanent housing within months after units become available. City officials say they hope the site won’t remain open for more than two years.

Shinn said that the city has designed the homeless center to avoid the pitfalls identified in the interagency findings. 

The report “specified all the reasons why it shouldn’t be done and we have used this model to not do any of these things,” she said. “For example, they said it should not be a camp. It is not a camp. Our transition center is intended to be a transition center for people to move out of the streets and into permanent housing.”

The city intends to use $600,000 out of a $3 million appropriation for Housing First programs — designed to create long-term housing for homeless — to implement the Sand Island homeless proposal.

Colin Kippen, chair of the Hawaii Interagency Council on Homelessness, told Civil Beat that he didn’t want to weigh in on the Sand Island proposal. But he did say that it wasn’t his idea of Housing First’s nationally recognized best practices for aiding the chronic homeless.

“It really doesn’t square with national philosophy because Housing First is taking people off the streets and putting them in housing,” he said.

You can read the report here:

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