Gov. David Ige is releasing $17.3 million in state funds reserved for “ohana zones” to nonprofits and county governments to fund more shelter space and permanent housing units on Oahu and the Big Island.

“We are committed to using ohana zone funds to support the strategies that we know work,” Ige said at a press conference Friday. “We believe the focus should be on Housing First and being able to provide permanent, supportive housing for those most at risk.”

Housing First is a model that moves homeless people directly from the street to permanent housing without preconditions like sobriety or first staying in a shelter.

Lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year appropriating the $30 million to construct ohana zones. The Legislature gave the governor’s office discretion on how the money could be spent, but required that the zones be on state or county lands and provide homeless services. 

Gov. David Ige, flanked by Lt. Gov. Josh Green, announced the release of $17.3 million in funding for ohana zones. Natanya Freidheim/Civil Beat

Ige said ohana zones differ from so-called “safe zones,” or tent cities.

The $17.3 million will be distributed among nonprofits Residential Youth Services and Empowerment and Catholic Charities, Hawaii County and the City and County of Honolulu over a three-year period.

The governor’s office is working with newly elected mayors of Kauai and Maui counties to identify ways to use the remaining $13 million.

Catholic Charities will receive $7.5 million to create permanent housing and a resource center for homeless families and individuals in Maili on Oahu’s Leeward Coast. The project, called Villages of Maili, is expected to serve 340 families per year.

Located on property owned by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, Villages of Maili will have 48 permanent housing units and 32 transitional shelter units.

RYSE, an organization that serves homeless young adults, will receive $1.8 million to add more shelter beds and build a new medical center in its existing shelter at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility in Windward Oahu. Some money will also be used to add outreach services.

“The Legislature explicitly identified these homeless youth as an underserved community,” Ige said.

The City and County of Honolulu will receive $4.5 million over three years to create 60 permanent housing units where homeless people can live and receive services at three sites around Oahu. The locations were not announced.

The state will also use $2 million to renovate shelters it owns at Kalaeloa in southwest Oahu.

Another $1.5 million will go to Hawaii County to create 13 permanent housing units in West Hawaii and expand space at an emergency shelter.

“All of these efforts are really an extension and expansion of the efforts and the work that we’ve done before,” Ige said.

State homeless coordinator Scott Morishige said the governor’s office worked to identify vacant state facilities to renovate.

RYSE Youth Homeless Shelter, nestled near Olomana and the Koolau mountains at the former Youth corrections facility.
The RYSE Youth Homeless Shelter, nestled near Olomana and the Koolau mountains in the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

While lawmakers who worked on the ohana zones bill had various ideas about what those zones should look like, they generally envisioned secure areas where homeless people can live for a year or two and receive a plethora of social and medical services.

Throughout his campaign for re-election this year Ige remained steadfastly opposed to government-sanctioned tent cities, areas where homeless people can camp and live freely. He instead supported investing in shelters and programs proven to move homeless into permanent housing.

The state’s homeless population was measured at 6,530 last January, when volunteers conducted the annual point-in-time count, an informal census of the homeless population. The count showed a 9.6 percent decrease from 2017.

The governor also issued a new statewide emergency proclamation for homelessness Wednesday, a move that allows him to sidestep lengthly permitting and procurement processes to build the new shelters and housing units.

Ige signed his first emergency proclamation to address homelessness Oct. 16, 2015, and has since issued a series of supplemental proclamations. The status has expedited the construction of permanent housing projects for homeless people, including Kahauiki Village near Mapunapuna and Hale Kikaha on the Big Island.

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