The state has no immediate plans to clear out a well-established homeless encampment near the Waianae Boat Harbor, according to state homeless coordinator Scott Morishige.
But community members and residents of Puuhonua O Waianae fear a sweep is increasingly likely.
About 15 of them gathered at the Capitol on Wednesday to defend the camp after recent criticism from some city and state leaders.
“The village is a safe and stable place to live,” said Twinkle Borge, the camp’s leader. “We want to dialogue with people to make a decision about our future. We want to keep our ohana together as much as possible. We are open to exploring all options including relocation.”
She said more than half of the roughly 200 camp residents are Native Hawaiian.
Many of the people who gathered Wednesday had planned to attend a House Health and Human Services Committee hearing to testify on a measure that would have exempted people living in the camp, which is on state land, from criminal trespassing laws.
But on Tuesday, committee Chair Rep. John Mizuno pulled HB 2754 from the hearing agenda. He was not immediately available for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Rep. Della Au Bellati, who introduced the bill, said even though it was tabled for the session, the measure generated important discussions about what the state should do about the encampment.
“It’s been clear that at some point there will be a transition of people out of that area. That won’t occur without prior notice.” — Scott Morishige, state homeless coordinator
Borge said people in the camp are often blamed for crime, vandalism and dumping trash in the area, including dumping human waste into Pokai Bay.
“Pokai Bay is a far walk from Waianae Boat Harbor,” Borge said. “Nobody is walking down Farrington with their buckets of waste and pouring it into the bay.”
Morishige and Rep. Cedric Gates, who represents Waianae, both support plans to move people living on the land elsewhere, provided they receive advance notice and that permanent or transitional housing options are offered.
“It’s been clear that at some point there will be a transition of people out of that area,” Morishige said. “That won’t occur without prior notice.”
Morishige said the state has long offered outreach services to people who live in the camp.
He said the site on land controlled by the Department of Land and Natural Resources isn’t appropriate for an encampment because human activity might impact the natural resources there, including a rare shrimp found in ponds in the area.
Borge said she asked the DLNR to bring a biologist to the camp to teach residents how to protect the shrimp.
She said many people in the encampment have tried and failed to find permanent housing or found homeless shelters unsuitable.
Borge told Civil Beat she would prefer the state allow people to continue living at the camp, adding that the measure tabled Tuesday might have bought her time to negotiate a deal with the state to either remain on the parcel or find land to relocate to.
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