People living in tents and makeshift shacks on state land bordering the Waianae Boat Harbor have long known their situation was precarious at best.
So they weren’t terribly surprised last week when Rep. Jo Jordan appeared on the evening news calling for a sweep of The Harbor.
What Twinkle Borge, The Harbor’s main leader, wasn’t expecting was the outpouring of support from scores of residents and community leaders along the Waianae Coast.
Jordan’s TV interview came on the last day of a Civil Beat series that took readers inside the unique camp, a project that sought to tell the stories of the homeless, people who are often ignored or written off. Jordan was quoted extensively in the series about her efforts to have the camp dismantled and the property taken back for public use.
Even before the series ended, people began voicing their support for The Harbor and the community that Borge and others had built. After Jordan appeared on TV, their voices grew even louder.
More than 500 people posted Facebook comments after the TV story. Though some online commenters expressed concern about drugs and crime in The Harbor, the vast majority of them were against any enforcement action.
Dozens signed a petition opposing any more homeless sweeps. Others reached out to Borge personally to offer assistance.
“I think many community members want to find a way to keep The Harbor there as a refuge,” state Sen. Maile Shimabukuro said.
Jordan was on Kauai Monday attending a homelessness forum and did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
But that newfound sense of goodwill is buoying Borge as she looks for ways to quash any future talk of eviction and create a more stable future for the makeshift village of about 250 people.
“I never realized before that I had so much support,” Borge said.
More Input Needed
Rumors of an impending sweep started spreading throughout The Harbor camp soon after Jordan’s appearance on Hawaii News Now on Wednesday, even though the state’s homeless coordinator, Scott Morishige, had insisted an enforcement action was not in the works. The state owns the property which is managed by the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
People living in The Harbor were very concerned, said Borge’s second-in-command, Rose Loke Chung-Lono.
At a symposium on homelessness in Waianae Thursday evening, community frustration and a sense of futility was apparent.
Twinkle Borge, left, attends most Waianae community meetings to make sure people have a way to communicate concerns about The Harbor.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
“Why don’t we talk with people? Is there something wrong with that? To talk with people about a solution?” said state Rep. Andria Tupola, who organized the forum. “We are talking about people instead of talking with people.”
Waianae Coast Neighborhood Board Chair Cedric Gates was among those who believed a sweep of The Harbor was likely. He worried about the impact on the greater Waianae area.
“There is no infrastructure in place that will compensate for the influx of people being displaced from the Waianae Boat Harbor location,” Gates said. “Our concern is they are going to end up in our backyard.”
Victor Lozano, who owns Spinners Cafe and Dolphin Excursions — two businesses located near the entrance to The Harbor homeless camp — also opposes evicting the community without a solid plan in place.
The Harbor doesn’t have any real negative impact on his businesses, Lozano says.
And the community appears to be the best solution to homelessness on the Waianae Coast that he’s seen in two decades, he added.
“The area right there where they are at seems to fit them the best,” Lozano said. “Without a real solution to displace them, where are they going to go next?”
An Overwhelming Response
Calls for officials to leave The Harbor alone have been accompanied by a surge in donations and support for people living in the camp.
Civil Beat received more than a dozen emails from people seeking ways to help The Harbor, and Borge says the community has seen an uptick in donations in recent days.
People as far away as Germany, Canada and northern California have contacted Borge and Chung-Lono on Facebook with messages of encouragement.
A few days ago, a long-lost friend of Borge’s who now lives in New Zealand came by The Harbor and brought her a brand new generator. He’d never realized she was homeless until he read one of the articles in Civil Beat last week, Borge said.
“It’s unreal,” Borge said. “I feel so blessed.”
Even though state officials say they have no plans to clear the camp, Chung-Lono says she’s not fully confident that The Harbor will be left alone.
“Both Twinkle and I knew this place wasn’t going to be permanent unless we could find a way to make it permanent,” Chung-Lono said.
That’s exactly what the two women are now trying to do.
Several community organizations have approached Borge in recent months to talk about proposals for the property. Some of the plans would allow people to live on the land, others would not.
Rose Loke Chung-Lono meticulously keeps track of every resident in The Harbor and where they are staying.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Now Borge is exploring what it would take to create a nonprofit and put in a bid for a lease of the property.
Kanahele negotiated a 55-year lease of state-owned land in Waimanalo after leading a lengthy protest in the early 1990s where hundreds of people occupied a state beach. That Waimanalo land is now home to a Hawaiian village.
Kanahele said he would do anything he could to help with Borge and Chung-Lono’s efforts to lease the land.
“Our support is totally behind them and anything we can do,” Kanahele said.
The first step, Borge said, is looking into creating a nonprofit organization and that means documenting all their efforts to help link up people living in The Harbor with social services providers, and move families into more permanent housing.
As one commenter on Facebook pointed out, The Harbor already functions much like a transitional housing shelter. Although some people live in The Harbor for up to a decade, many others only stay long enough to get back on their feet.
Shimabukuro said she might support a community at The Harbor similar to the one run by Kanahele if there were well-enforced rules in place and The Harbor eliminated any conflicts boaters and other people in the neighboring boat harbor.
There would also need to be infrastructure like water and trash pickup so that people living in The Harbor weren’t competing for the same resources at boaters, Shimabukuro said.
The Waianae Coast Neighborhood Board expects to discuss The Harbor at its next meeting on Dec. 1.
Stay Up To Date On The Coronavirus And Other Hawaii Issues