Gov. David Ige announced Monday that he was launching an “unprecedented” effort to address the state’s growing homeless problem.
“The governor’s leadership team on homelessness” is made up of representatives from all government levels — federal, state and city — including the governor; state Sen. Jill Tokuda; state Rep. Sylvia Luke; Rachael Wong, director of the Hawaii Department of Human Services; Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell; Ernie Martin, chair of the City Council; and staffers from the offices of U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz.
“This isn’t just another committee,” Ige said. “This team is making a commitment to work together to find solutions now. There is something important going on. We are the people responsible for the public’s welfare. This team is meeting face to face to address homelessness, and we are going to hold each other accountable.”
One conspicuous absentee was Colin Kippen, who announced Monday morning that he’s been told his tenure as the governor’s coordinator on homelessness will expire Friday.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Ige said his team will convene on a weekly basis, but no action plan emerged from Monday’s inaugural meeting. There’s no specific timeline for dealing with homeless encampments in Kakaako and elsewhere, he added.
“There’s no quick fixes on homelessness. No easy answers. We want to be thoughtful in how we move forward,” Ige told reporters.
“The reality of this position is that (it gets) no budget, no money — you’re told to just come in and end homelessness. There’s so much more to be done. We’re in the middle of a full-blown crisis, especially on Oahu.” — Colin Kippen, outgoing state homeless coordinator
Still, Tokuda said there’s a sense of urgency among everyone involved.
“The Legislature understands the gravity of the situation and the need to pull all executive and governmental agencies to the table in an effort to execute and implement solutions that can be replicated in communities across the state,” Tokuda said.
Caldwell said the city’s ready to resume enforcement efforts in Kakaako in “a phased way” — rather than doing a wholesale sweep.
“We’ve been working with the Honolulu Police Department on an approach that makes sense, that’s methodical, that is announced way before the action is taken,” Caldwell said.
“The good news is, today in talking, we have a beginning of the plan for finding locations where they can be housed in a safe way in an interim period while we have time to find permanent, supportive housing — which is the real solution to this problem,” Caldwell added.
Colin Kippen’s tenure as the state’s homeless coordinator won’t be extended a fourth time.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Ige said he doesn’t have an immediate replacement for Kippen. “We’re in search of a new homelessness coordinator. We’re in the process of interviewing,” he said.
The announcement of Kippen’s departure ends months of speculations about his fate.
Ige first approached Kippen — an appointee of former Gov. Neil Abercrombie — in November and asked him to stay in his post until the end of last year. In late December, Ige extended his offer through June 30 — only to change his mind late last month and keep him through the end of July.
Kippen’s contract was not extended for a fourth time. But Kippen’s assistant, Brian Matson, will be staying on for the time being, Kippen told Civil Beat.
Kippen said his successor will face a daunting challenge.
“The reality of this position is that (it gets) no budget, no money — you’re told to just come in and end homelessness,” he said. “There’s so much more to be done. We’re in the middle of a full-blown crisis, especially on Oahu. That’s something that will require some thoughts and plans for concerted actions.”
But Kippen said his successor will inherit a more organized homeless response system that Kippen helped create — buttressed by a central intake system that’s being used by the state’s service providers. The system has assessed the needs of about 3,500 people so far, he said.
“We’ve created something that lives on,” Kippen said. “Because of this system, we can now have a systemic response to homelessness that’s backed up by data and information.”
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