Support for a well-established homeless encampment at the Waianae Boat Harbor and frustration at state government were the themes of the night Thursday as about 100 people turned out for a Waianae Coast Neighborhood Board meeting also attended by Mike McCartney, Gov. David Ige’s chief of staff.
Community members complained about what they saw as a lack of transparency in the state’s efforts to create a plan for the camp, and said they want to see community leaders take the lead in helping the residents.
Speakers requested the state help those living at the camp, known as Puuhonua O Waianae, with trash pickup, access to bathrooms and by turning the water back on at a spigot at the harbor.
McCartney apologized for the mixed signals sent by state officials this month regarding the encampment.
At the last neighborhood board meeting March 6, residents were told by state homeless coordinator Scott Morishige and Pua Aiu of the Department of Land and Natural Resources that the encampment would be swept away by May or June.
In an about-face Tuesday, the governor assured leaders of the homeless community of about 200 people that they would not be evicted from state-owned land controlled by the Department of Land and Natural Resources. And on Wednesday, he said his office was looking for vacant land in Waianae where the community can relocate to.
The governor also said there is no federal grant application pending to build a marine education center on the site, as the officials indicated March 6.
“Be honest with us from this day on,” said Twinkle Borge, longtime leader of Puuhonua. “You guys totally wrecked my life. You guys gave me anxiety, many sleepless nights.”
McCartney blamed the confusion on miscommunications and pledged to work with the community moving forward.
He said there will be no presentation to the Board of Land and Natural Resources about plans for the marine education center at the board’s meeting March 23, as was announced at the previous neighborhood board meeting.
Borge and James Pakele, a Waianae resident and Puuhonua volunteer, asked to be involved in meetings with the administration moving forward.
The conflicting messages from state officials in recent days were brought up frequently Thursday by community members, including Republican state Rep. Andria Tupola of Nanakuli, a candidate for governor.
“To come here and talk about a federal grant and then all of a sudden this week it never even existed; that is not something our community should have to put up with,” Tupola said.
State officials have voiced concerns about the impact of the encampment on natural resources at the site, including a rare shrimp, and maintain the area is not suitable for human habitation.
Neighborhood board member Calvin Endo said people living on the site would be in danger should a hurricane or tropical storm hit the Leeward Coast.
People involved with Puuhonua O Waianae are already looking for other parcels the community can relocate to.
The neighborhood board’s vice-chair, Marc Paaluhi, also sits on the board of Dynamic Community Solutions, a nonprofit created on behalf of the encampment.
On Thursday he, Borge and Pakele went to Kahumana farms, a nonprofit social service provider with more than 50 acres in Lualualei Valley on the West side, to see a 4-acre parcel they are considering.
Dynamic Community Solutions is creating a list of parcels that could potentially serve as a site for the homeless community. Pakele said a lease would open the opportunity for the homeless community to build infrastructure and houses with the help of volunteers.
“We’ve got a lot of supporters. I’m sure if we could just get one piece of property, I’m sure we could get a lot of help coming out of the woodwork,” he said at the meeting.
He added that while some families plan to move into a 16-unit modular housing project the city of Honolulu is opening near the harbor, the rents – $981 for a one-bedroom and $1,177 for a two-bedroom – are too high for many.
For the last two years Morishige’s office met with camp leaders monthly to explore other options for the homeless including homeless shelters or permanent housing.
Morishige said those meetings stopped last September due to staff shortages in his office.
Neither he nor Aiu attended Thursday’s meeting.
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