Time is running out for a good solution to the homeless camp at the Waianae Small Boat Harbor, but it doesn’t have to.

The news broke last week that state officials are threatening to shut down the camp as early as June, despite warnings from community activists that three months is not sufficient time to relocate the 200 or so inhabitants.

The reason for the sweep ostensibly is to move forward on building a marine science learning center on the same spot. But, given that the camp has been there for 10 years, it seems that the urgency is fueled more by politics than education.

We urge the state not to touch the Waianae camp until there is a place for it to relocate. While there are real concerns about preservation, sanitation and ecology in the area, Puuhonua O Waianae has largely lived up to its name — a safe refuge for people who desperately need it.

The homeless camp at the Waianae Small Boat Harbor, center, with Waianae High School at left and boat harbor on right, is in the middle of state plans to move out the 200 or so residents.

Civil Beat

As Civil Beat reported in its award-winning series The Harbor, the Waianae camp is more than a collection of tents. It is a self-governed community, where people struggling with myriad challenges can find a measure of safety, stability and camaraderie — basic human needs that often elude homeless struggling to survive on their own.

At a time when lawmakers are considering more legislation on safe zones, ohana zones, Housing First and other refuges, the homeless in Waianae (with support from neighbors and service agencies) are already showing the way.

While praise is heaped on businessman Duane Kurisu’s $12 million, plantation-styled Kahauiki Village at Sand Island, the Waianae homeless leaders have worked to clean up the camp and abide by state rules — largely on their own and with limited resources and a lot of love. The camp has also become a registered nonprofit.

Still, an administrator with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources recently bemoaned the threat the camp poses to the ecosystem.

The resident of this homeless shelter in The Harbor carefully constructed a rock wall.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“This is certainly not the Hawaiian way,” said Bruce Anderson of the DLNR’s Division of Aquatic Resources.

And in fact The Harbor has plenty of problems — crime and drug use are two that camp leaders have struggled to keep from getting out of hand. Sanitation issues have proved tough to resolve and state officials say vandalism and excessive use of boat harbor water have been on the rise.

The Waianae camp leaders have demonstrated commitment to Hawaiian values of caring for the land and one another. They are trying to work with state officials to find a place to relocate some homeless and to help others transition into housing.

But there is a sense that the state has not operated transparently and in good faith. To show up unannounced at a neighborhood board meeting to announce the decampment timeline, as was done last week, will only add to existing mistrust.

Rebuilding trust could start as early as this week.

A special Waianae Coast Neighborhood Board meeting on the camp sweep is scheduled for this Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Waianae District Park Multipurpose Room. Representatives from DLNR, the Ige administration and state homeless coordinator Scott Morishige are scheduled to make presentations.

Time For Leaders To Lead

The Waianae Coast is one of the poorest regions in the state. It is home to a municipal dump, a power plant, military grounds and a dangerous two-lane highway. It and its people, many of them Native Hawaiians, deserve far better.

We urge our leaders to come together and solve the Waianae camp challenge, to find another location where they can continue to live as a real ohana, one that depends on each other for support that the state simply can’t provide.

Press conference held by Twinkle Borges from Puuhonua O Waianae held at the Capitol.

A recent press conference at the Capitol with camp leaders.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

That shouldn’t be too hard: The largest landowners are the state, the city and the federal government. The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands is also currently updating its plans for land in the area, primarily in Waianae and Nanakuli. Surely there are 5 to 10 acres somewhere suitable for tents and micro units, composting, portable showers and toilets.

The leadership starts with Gov. David Ige, who has made homelessness a top priority; U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who grew up in Waianae; state Rep. Andria Tupola, who represents the area today; and former state Sen. Clayton Hee, a former chair of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

All four are running for governor this year.

Ige last month declared 2018 The Year of the Hawaiian. We suggest he and other leaders spend the rest of the year proving it.

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