The Hawaii Interagency Council on Homelessness voted Tuesday to provide $25,000 in state funds to Hawaii County to continue operating Camp Kikaha, a legal homeless encampment in Kona on Hawaii Island known as a “safe zone.”
Hawaii County officials will administer the money for day-to-day operations, including security and sanitation.
Part of the money will also be used to track data including demographics, how long people stay at Camp Kikaha and how many people move from there to permanent housing or shelters.
There’s very little data about how effective safe zones are at alleviating homelessness, Scott Morishige, HICH chair and the state coordinator on homelessness, said at the Tuesday meeting.
He was one of five members of a working group created by the Legislature to study safe zones and identify state land that could be used to establish safe zones.
The group identified nine state-owned parcels on Oahu that could be used as safe zones, though all parcels have drawbacks that would complicate converting them into encampments.
“The challenges aren’t necessarily insurmountable,” Morishige said. “It does impact the issue of cost.”
County officials created Camp Kikaha in August after clearing 68 people from an illegal homeless encampment at Old Kona Airport Park. The county has so far used its own funds to operate the encampment, but that money is running out.
About 30 people lived at Camp Kikaha when it was created. Today, 20 people live in the collection of tents located on the same property as an affordable housing project made of shipping containers converted to living units.
Next to the units is an emergency shelter operated by HOPE Services Hawaii. The setup makes Camp Kikaha look more like a makeshift extension of the shelter than a stand-alone tent city.
“We placed 30 more people (from Old Kona Airport Park) because of Camp Kikaha. If we didn’t those 30 would be on the street,” said Lace Niimi, an executive assistant to Hawaii Island Mayor Harry Kim at the meeting.
“We’re never going to get caught up with the permanent housing,” Niimi said.
Instead, the measure’s final version created the working group.
Rep. Cedric Gates introduced Act 212 and plans to introduce a similar measure to create safe zones in the upcoming legislative session.
“I really want to address that transition process between the sweeps and the permanent housing,” Gates told Civil Beat in an interview after the meeting.
Gates said homeless sweeps in urban Honolulu cause people to move onto beaches along the Waianae Coast in his district. Safe zones should be near transportation, jobs and social services, he said.
The Honolulu City Council has also considered safe zones. Resolution 17-227, introduced by Councilman Ernie Martin, originally urged the city administration to create them.
The council’s Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee amended the measure to shift from the concept of safe zones to tiny homes like those found at Hale Mauiliola, a transitional homeless shelter on Sand Island.
In 2012, legislators created a previous working group to study safe zones. That group advised against formal encampments, citing concerns that the money would be better spent helping people find permanent housing.
At the meeting Monday, Morishige reviewed the objections to safe zones made by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development:
“We have a limited amount of funding to address this issue,” Morishige said. “If you divert funding from permanent housing options to strategies such as safe zones or authorized encampments … people will continue to remain homeless. USICH and HUD sees this as potentially shifting our focus on what our end game really should be — on permanent housing.”
The nine sites identified as possible Oahu safe zones include: