Gov. David Ige issued an emergency proclamation Friday to address Hawaii’s homelessness crisis, a move that allows him to tap into the state’s general revenue funds reserved for “the immediate relief of the conditions created by the disaster.”
“It is still a state of emergency when you consider that there are thousands of people in our community who continue to be homeless,” Ige told reporters at a press conference.
Ige said his leadership team has come up with $1.3 million to extend existing contracts with homeless service providers through July and expand the resources available to beef up the programs built around the Housing First model.
By issuing an emergency proclamation, Ige invoked his power to sidestep any law that “is detrimental to the expeditious and efficient execution of … emergency functions” and suspended 25 statutes and regulations that govern things like historic preservation, collective bargaining, open meetings, procurement and environmental impact statements.
The move streamlines the process of building more shelters — particularly those tailored for homeless families — that are “temporary and have a clear sunset date,” according to a statement from Ige’s office.
“We are making sure that we have options for those who are homeless to move into an emergency shelter, and the biggest deficit in the system is shelter space for families,” Ige said.
Nearly a decade ago, then-Gov. Linda Lingle also issued emergency proclamations to cope with homelessness, and her efforts led to the creation of Kakaako’s Next Step and other emergency shelters throughout the state.
Brian Black, executive director of The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, said a legitimate question could be raised as to whether the state’s homelessness crisis “rises to the level of a disaster that requires suspension of these particular laws.”
But Black pointed out that the state’s statute designates the governor as “the sole judge of the existence of the danger, threat, state of affairs or circumstances.”
“From a legal perspective, no one can challenge Governor Ige’s determination,” Black said.
Scott Morishige, the governor’s coordinator on homelessness, said the expanded services will be data-driven and geared toward getting people off the streets quickly.
“As we continue to get more needs-assessment data that’s collected by our homeless service providers, we’re learning more about what strategies are most effective and helping to transition some of these individuals and families more quickly through our shelter system,” Morishige said.
Ige’s proclamation came two days after the city’s maintenance crew completed the sweeps of the Kakaako homeless encampment, where 293 people — including 31 families — were living when a survey was conducted in early August.
According to Morishige, more than a half — 158 people, including 25 families — were placed into housing during the city’s month-long cleanup effort.
Ige said his leadership team can learn from the Kakaako sweep as it continues to refine its approach to addressing homelessness statewide.
“The lesson learned is that great things can be accomplished when we all work together,” Ige said. “We plan to replicate the Kakaako model as we work to address homelessness in communities across the state.”
But Ige added: “We know that we’re not going to get 100 percent success with every homeless person.”
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