Just seven months ago it seemed that the homeless camp at the Waianae Small Boat Harbor was in danger of being shut down by the state.
The camp, known as Puuhonua O Waianae and home to about 200 people — many Native Hawaiian — has operated on undeveloped land for more than a decade. By many accounts, it is an orderly and organized community, even a potential model for homeless safe zones.
But officials with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources say the encampment threatens natural resources in the area. There was talk of building an education center on the site as well.
Fortunately, instead of enforcing criminal trespassing laws and tearing down the tents and makeshift structures, Gov. David Ige heeded community and concerns and announced that his office would actively look for vacant land in Waianae to relocate the puuhonua (it means a place of refuge, or peace and safety).
From left, Twinkle Borge, Gov. David Ige and Richard “Buffalo” Keaulana at a meeting on the Waianae encampment in March. The photo was posted on Puuhonua O Waianae’s Facebook page.
Facebook: Pu'uhonua o Wai'anae
It’s now October, and the camp is still on its original site. The state has not announced a new location for the puuhonua. But members of the encampment are now moving forward with their own plans to create a new, self-made village to house about 300 homeless people.
With the help of area residents, the goal is to establish by the end of next year a Hawaiian kauhale — houses with shared areas for eating, cooking and bathing. It’s estimated that land and infrastructure will cost $1.5 million. It’s not clear what the homes might look like or what the total cost might be.
We are heartened to learn that state homeless coordinator Scott Morishige and DLNR officials are working with village leaders to find a suitable location. Same goes for efforts to obtain funding from Native Hawaiian organizations. Leaders from the Waianae camp have also launched a public fundraising campaign, and say that anonymous donors have pledged up to $500,000 in a “challenge grant.”
Here’s an idea: The Hawaii Legislature, ignoring the objections of the Ige administration, appropriated $30 million to build six safe zones in the state, including three on Oahu. Why not make Puuhonua o Waianae one of these safe zones, on leased or purchased state or private property?
It makes perfect sense. The enabling legislation, announced in April and now law, even uses the word “ohana” (family, relative, kin):
Ohana is a group of closely- or distantly-related people who share nearly everything, from land and food to responsibility for taking care of children and elders. Members of an ohana, whether or not related by blood, treat each other as extended family and share generously with each other. The legislature finds that building upon this ethic of ohana presents an opportunity to improve the lives of people experiencing homelessness.
As the bill explains, the creation of ohana zones is a recognition that the Legislature believes that addressing homelessness “requires the courage to try something new.”
The advantage that Waianae camp offers is that it has already demonstrated a “sense of place” so essential to a place to call home. Investing in this existing community is a good use of the money intended to establish safe zones.
The state needs to move forward on this one.
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The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board are Pierre Omidyar, Patti Epler, Jim Simon, Richard Wiens, Chad Blair, Jessica Terrell and Landess Kearns. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.