Members of Hawaii’s most well-established homeless encampment near the Waianae Boat Harbor are moving forward with plans to lease or buy land in Waianae to relocate their community of roughly 200 people.
Land and infrastructure, including electricity, sewage and water lines are estimated to cost $1.5 million, according to Waianae resident James Pakele, who is working with the community on relocation plans.
Pakele and Twinkle Borge, the camp’s leader, are working with Natalie Snyder-Pond and Michael Hodge to design a village modeled after a Hawaiian kauhale, a group of houses with communal areas for cooking, eating areas and in this case, bathing.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Hodge and Snyder-Pond as architects on the project. They were acting as design consultants.
“It’s nothing revolutionary, there’s plenty of villages around the world that have that same arrangement, but again it’s designed for communal engagement,” Hodge said. “The thing that’s so radical about them is that they’ve already got the community.”
There are no plans yet for how to build and pay for the actual houses.
For more than a decade, people have lived in tents and makeshift structures on undeveloped land owned by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. The encampment, Puuhonua O Waianae, has developed into a self-governed community that state and local lawmakers have cited as a potential model for homeless safe zones in other parts of the state.
A group of people who live in the encampment and their supporters met Saturday night at Impact Hub in Kakaako to launch a three-month fundraising campaign.
Borge, Pakele and Puuhonua supporter James Koshiba explained their plans to a group of about 30 people, who then brainstormed ways to improve the presentation.
“It’s not Housing First, it’s not jobs first, it’s community first,” Pakele said to the crowd, suggesting that a self-made village is a more suitable solution to homelessness for the Waianae encampment than the state’s strategy of Housing First, which aims to quickly get homeless people into permanent housing.
In March, state officials announced plans to sweep the encampment only to have Gov. David Ige contradict them days later. Ige said the state has no imminent plans to sweep the encampment and is looking for land in Waianae suitable for relocating the homeless village.
The announcement caused upheaval in the encampment and caused its supporters to double down on relocation efforts.
In a meeting with Ige, Puuhonua supporters asked for “time and the opportunity to execute our plan,” Pakele said. “It was done with the understanding that the village cannot remain in its current location at its current capacity.”
Borge wants to relocate the village by the end of 2019.
State homeless coordinator Scott Morishige and DLNR officials are working with the village leaders to identify land.
The group narrowed down a list of a few parcels in Waianae but declined to identify the parcels, citing concerns that making the list public would jeopardize the group’s ability to lease or purchase the land.
“We don’t want to hamper our ability to negotiate,” Pakele said.
Borge and Pakele also said they would prefer to buy land to avoid uncertainty that can arise once a lease agreement with the state expires.
A few anonymous donors have already dedicated up to $500,000 in a “challenge grant,” meaning the money won’t be available until it is matched dollar for dollar, Koshiba said.
“It would be a herculean effort if we can pull this off,” Hodge said.
Small homes where people live might not have indoor plumbing, but shared bathrooms and kitchens would cut down on costs dramatically, Pakele said. Village residents would all pay for utilities, including trash pickup fees and wastewater fees.
“We’re trying to come to an arrangement that’s truly, honestly affordable,” Pakele said.
The number of people living at the boat harbor encampment fluctuates between 200 and 225 as homeless people come and go, but a core group remains. The new village would accommodate up to 300 people.
Homeless people swept from other parts of the island often end up at Puuhonua, so Hodge said they would incorporate an area for people coming in right off the street.
The Legislature last session dedicated $30 million to create six safe zones, three on Oahu and one each on Maui, Kauai and the Big Island. The governor’s office controls those funds and as of August had not released any.
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