Homelessness in Hawai'i County
The entire state is trying to come up with solutions to address homelessness. In Hawai'i County, the annual Point in Time Count showed a reduction in homeless individuals from last year to this year of about a third. But that still leaves nearly a thousand unsheltered people on the island by the official count. HPR contributing reporter Sherry Bracken talked with county and state officials about how the issue is being addressed.
Lance Niimi, Hawai'i County Assistant Housing Administrator, says the island’s homeless issue is most evident in Kona. In early August, the County plans to do a homeless sweep at Old Airport Park, which has become a gathering point for homeless.
“The mayor wanted to have an alternative for the homeless to go. Mayor has selected a site, 18 acres – lots of potential for future housing. We’re gonna provide temporary shelter, canopy tents, individual structures to put their belongings, and cots. Each person will have 400 square foot. We bring the social services together, places that provide food for the homeless. Hopefully it will be a place that people will feel comfortable coming. It’ll be a tough challenge.”
Niimi said the site, at Henry Street and Palani Road, would involve a land swap with Queen Lili’uokalani Trust. The site will eventually house the Friendly Place, administered by HOPE Services, which today provides ongoing services and food near Old Airport.
The question is, where is the funding coming from?
Scott Morishige, the State’s Homeless Coordinator, says in the last fiscal year, the State provided roughly $2.2M in funding for homeless services for Hawai'i Island, and will spend $3.6 million dollars in the next fiscal year.
“The state’s approach to homeless is focused on three main things: housing, human services, and public safety. Here in Kona we’ve worked to help convene landlord summits. We helped accelerate the development of Hale Kekaha Microunit project, which added permanent housing. We helped expand the funding for Housing first. We’ve also started a program called Rapid Rehousing that provides short to medium term rent supports. On the public safety side, we’re looking to close loopholes in the law and really integrate services with any law enforcement effort. “
We will have more on Hawai'i County’s plans for the homeless sweep in the next few weeks.