Residents of a large homeless encampment near the Waianae Small Boat Harbor say they are not to blame for many of the concerns being cited as reasons to explore shutting down the village on state-owned property.
With more than 200 residents, the encampment known as Pu‘uhonua o Waianae sits on 20 acres of state land between Waianae High School and the boat harbor.
Officials with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which owns the parcel and the boat harbor, have said the agency needs to address serious concerns about hygiene, refuse, soaring water use at the harbor, and the destruction of natural and cultural resources. Area lawmakers say there’s talk about a department proposal that could surface next month to begin closing the camp, but the governor’s coordinator on homelessness says there is no planned sweep at this time.
“We will be blamed for crimes, vandalism and trash dumping in the area,” village leader Twinkle Borge told reporters.
She said the encampment is being unfairly targeted. “The village is a safe and stable place to live,” she said. “It’s only so easy for you come, sit down with us, come talk. Let’s come up with one solution.”
Borge was joined by roughly two dozen Pu‘uhonua residents and supporters at the Capitol on Wednesday to hand-deliver testimony on a bill that would have protected residents from being swept from the site.
The bill was shelved a day prior, but Borge says she’s “hopeful that this might create an opportunity to talk to the state about solutions.”
She said over the years the encampment has offered to lease the land; asked for help to find a new location; and offered to pay for water use, dumpsters and portable toilets. In response to concerns about opae ula shrimp living in an underground cave system under the site, the camp asked if a state biologist could teach residents how to care for the holes.
“In each case, the state stopped us,” Borge said. “They have the ability and the power to help us. We can find a new place, transition there, bring in the agencies. I believe that we can be the solution.”
Scott Morishige, the governor’s coordinator on homelessness, said in general the state works to ensure there is space available in shelters or housing programs before taking any enforcement action.
Borge said most Pu‘uhonua residents have gone through shelters or temporary housing but ended up back on the streets. “Many no longer have faith that shelters can help, so we’ve pulled together to support each other,” she said.
State Rep. Cedric Gates (D, Waianae-Makaha-Makua) said he wants to ensure a smooth transition if the site is ultimately cleared.
“Before anything happens, we really have to come up with a comprehensive plan of how to transition these families and individuals,” Gates said. “Until that is in place, if we were to conduct a sweep, we would be putting at risk our whole community, because where would these individuals go? … At the end of the day, what we want to see for everyone is for them to get a stable job, to be able to get into a stable housing situation and be able to contribute to the community.”