Your voices will be heard.

That was the message that State Homeless Coordinator Scott Morishige stressed at the Waianae Coast Neighborhood Board meeting on Tuesday, while also trying to reassure people that no sweeps are currently planned for The Harbor homeless community.

“We want to make sure we are getting everyone’s input before we settle on any specific strategy,” Morishige said.

The unique homeless village had already won a big victory Tuesday night: Moments before Morishige spoke, the neighborhood board passed a resolution to support “the ongoing leadership of Twinkle Borge and Loke Lono for the Waianae Harbor Village.”

Later, after Morishige had stood patiently for close to an hour listening to people tell him to leave the community alone, the board passed a second resolution, this time calling for the state to give the community a lease on the land.  This time they recognized the community by the new name Borge and Chung-Lono have given it: Puuhonua O Waianae. Puuhonua means sanctuary, and will also be the name of the nonprofit that Borge and Chung-Lono hope to create to pursue a lease.

Some of the structures in The Harbor sit on the edge of the rocky coastline.
Some of the structures in The Harbor sit on the edge of the rocky coastline. Cory Lum/CIvil Beat

The two women are the main leaders of what is now Hawaii’s largest homeless community.

Nearly 250 people live in tents and makeshift shacks in a stretch of woods and brush bordering the Waianae Boat Harbor. Some people have lived there for close to a decade.

The state owns the property which is managed by the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Rumors of a pending sweep caused a sense of panic in The Harbor community last month after the state representative for the area went on television calling for the place to be cleared.

Rep. Jo Jordan’s interview came on the final day of a Civil Beat special report on the unique encampment, a project that sought to tell the stories of the homeless, people who are often ignored or written off.

A few days later, Morishige reiterated what he’d said in the Civil Beat series, that state officials were convinced an enforcement action at The Harbor would be the wrong thing to do. Instead, he said, the better solution would be to work with residents of The Harbor to try to figure out how to help move them into permanent housing. Meanwhile, the camp would be left alone.

On Tuesday night, Morishige’s presentation again addressed the misconception about a looming sweep. But some Waianae residents said that wasn’t enough: They wanted an assurance that there would never be a sweep of the community and that the state would make efforts to provide basic services like trash pickup and running water to the community.

More than two dozen people who live at The Harbor attended the meeting, though only a few stood up to speak.

“What is happening at the boat harbor is entirely unique,” Waianae Neighborhood Board member Ken Koike told Morishige, pointing out the efforts of leaders in The Harbor community to connect people living there with social services and meet their needs.

State of Hawaii Coordinator on Homeless, Scott Morishige during press conference on Kakaako in October.
State of Hawaii Coordinator on Homeless, Scott Morishige during a press conference on Kakaako in October. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Morishige reiterated that although he had yet to visit The Harbor, he was setting up meetings with service providers as well as Borge and leaders from the community.

Koike suggested that he spend the night at some of the shelters to truly understand what it was like.

“The data unfortunately can only show so much,” Koike said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, several people continued to voice their opposition to the city’s plan to build a modular housing shelter close across the street from Waianae High School while at the same time calling for the city to make The Harbor a safe zone.

If you build modular housing, you also have to bring in staff to run the place, Waianae resident James Pakele told Morishige. There is already a structure at The Harbor and staff who are running it without being paid, he said.

“All you really have to do is empower these people to further do what they are doing,” Pakele told Morishige. “When I look at this place I don’t see a problem, I see a Hawaiian village.”

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