He urged people to embrace the concept and vowed to move forward regardless of local NIMBY opposition.

Gov. Josh Green promised more tiny home villages will be built around the state, regardless of opposition from local communities, as his administration tackles homelessness. 

So far 25 potential locations have been identified, he said Monday on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s “Spotlight Hawaii” program, with the idea that 15 of them will ultimately be chosen and developed over the next four years. 

“We will eventually have many kauhale spread all across the state,” he said, using the Hawaiian term for a cluster of houses.

HomeAid Hawaii Opens Doors at Kama’okū.  Entrance with welcome mat at one of the small homes located at Kama’okū.
The Green administration is framing tiny home villages, also referred to as kauhale, as being less of a homelessness-focused initiative and more of a community-focused one. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021)

He referenced the pop-up kauhale near The Queen’s Medical Center that’s planned to open in about a month, as reported by Hawaii News Now.

Homeless patients make up about 30% of emergency room visits, he said, and these discharged patients would recover better in a kauhale with a medical respite center than unsheltered on the street. 

This pop-up will be close to Green’s official residence – across the street from the Capitol, “in my backyard,” he said. That statement stood in contrast to those who object to having homeless services nearby in a trend known as NIMBY, or not in my backyard.

When asked on Spotlight how he plans to pitch these tiny home villages to potentially unwilling host communities, Green urged people in Hawaii to embrace the concept but said he was going forward regardless.

“It’s not a pitch, it’s a reality,” he said.

Some regions say they already have enough social services. At the beginning of April, the Downtown-Chinatown neighborhood board passed a resolution asking for no more homeless facilities to be built in its area or in Iwilei.

Iwilei, however, was explicitly named by Green as a site that might see its current social services expanded. 

“I’m not going to let people reject projects,” he said.

In a phone interview later, Hawaii’s chief housing officer Nani Medeiros walked back Green’s comments about local opposition.

The administration will hold town halls as it chooses locations, and will strongly encourage existing residents in these locations to embrace kauhale. 

But “that doesn’t mean that we’re going to exclude public input,” she said.

A tiny home village called Kamaoku opened in Barbers Point in late 2021. Standalone units provide beds for up to 36 people, who all share common bathroom and laundry facilities. The total cost was $4.6 million, of which the state paid about $1.8 million. Rent is $500 per month.

HomeAid Hawaii Opens Doors at Kama’okū.
Kamaoku, a kauhale in Barbers Point, serves as one model for what upcoming kauhale could look like. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021)

“Kamaolu is one example of kauhale,” said James Koshiba, the state homelessness coordinator. But the clusters can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. 

The one outside The Queen’s Medical Center will be temporary and house between eight and 10 people, while other locations will ideally be more permanent and house about 50 people each, he said. Even that number is more of a median estimate than a definitive minimum or maximum.

Some tiny home villages could be geared toward singles and doubles. Family-oriented kauhale could be built with playgrounds and child care services.

The kauhale concept should be seen less as a homelessness program and more like a community-building one, Medeiros said.

Green addressed security concerns at the kauhale outside Queen’s, saying arrests will be made if there’s drug dealing or violence.

But Medeiros wanted to shed the idea that kauhale necessarily means more hired security. 

While a few officers might be hired in the beginning, the hope is that communities could eventually implement their own volunteer resident watch. 

Kauhale should be places where people can feel their lives return to normal, she said. “These aren’t prisons we’re building,” she said.

Green’s administration didn’t provide specifics about each kauhale location, but said sites are being considered in each county. The idea is that four will be built each year.

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