Just over a month ago, Hawai'i County Mayor Harry Kim and his team moved most of the homeless out of Old Airport Park on the west side of the island. That meant around 68 people who had been living in the park had to leave. About half of them are now living in the County’s new tent city. HPR contributing reporter Sherry Bracken has an update.
Several people who had called Old Airport Park home moved into County emergency housing. Thirty more are living at what’s called Camp Kikaha - tarps and cots next to the County’s emergency shelter. Linda Vanderwoort is the Camp Kikaha coordinator.
“It’s not any kind of cookie cutter population different types of people, different age groups, different stories. The average age is 50. Most of these people have been unsheltered for quite some time. The youngest would be 21, our oldest is 69. I have about 3 or 4 people working. I’m trying to get people to the point where they can work. When people are living unsheltered, not getting enough rest, using your energy to survive it makes it very difficult. “
Vanderwoort says a few Camp Kikaha residents were asked to leave because they could not follow rules or they had severe addictions. She wants those who stay to eventually get into housing.
“I like to look at it, it’s the beginning of the end of homelessness. I’m bringing in social services. We start reducing those barriers that kept some of these people out of housing—legal issues, health issues, behavioral health issues. They have a safe place to sleep, shower, restrooms, meals, so they have the stability and safety.”
Mayor Harry Kim is working on a long-term plan for the island’s homeless. Vanderwoort says Camp Kikaha is providing valuable information.
“We are finding out what it takes to run a camp like ours. We’re doing something I don’t think’s been done anywhere in the state. We do have a more permanent site in the future. When we get that spot we are gonna have so much useful knowledge of what it’s gonna take, what’s gonna work, what we should do, what we shouldn’t do. “
Lance Niimi, on Mayor Kim’s staff, says Camp Kikaha is costing the county around $25,000 per month, mostly for security.