The residents of a large homeless encampment near the Waianae Small Boat Harbor say they are agitated and worried about their future after state officials publicly announced this week that they would be working to close the camp in the coming months.
“My nights have been very sleepless,” said Twinkle Borge, leader of the Pu‘uhonua o Waianae community, which sits on 19.5 acres of state land between Waianae High School and the harbor.
Another leader, Loke Chung-Lono, said Wednesday that the camp’s residents are confused and scared.
“They don’t know where they are going. They don’t know what’s going to happen,” Chung-Lono said.
The announcement about the state’s impending action came Tuesday at the Waianae Coast Neighborhood Board meeting, where officials talked about developing a marine science learning center where the camp is now, Borge said.
The plan is to move the encampment by early June, she said, apparently because the state faces a deadline for obtaining federal funds and the land needs to be cleared and restored before officials can apply for the money.
But Borge, who has been in ongoing talks with state officials regarding the camp’s future, said the announcement was made prematurely as she was promised more time to help come up with a solution.
She said the community, which has become a formal nonprofit organization, is searching for another piece of land to where it can relocate. But moving some 169 people, 133 camps and 148 dogs, among other things, is going to take a lot more time, she said, perhaps six months or up to a year.
At the very least, she said, state officials promised to give the campers plenty of notice before making the announcement.
“Where’s the trust?” Borge said.
Scott Morishige, the governor’s homeless coordinator, turned down an interview request and instead issued this statement:
“The Governor’s office and the Department of Land and Natural Resources are in discussion with Twinkle and other leaders of Pu‘uhonua o Waianae regarding a transition plan. We have made a commitment with Twinkle and the leaders of the Pu‘uhonua not to comment on plans in the media.”
There was a time when state and city lawmakers looked at the Pu‘uhonua o Waianae community as a potential model for what government-sanctioned homeless “safe zones” could look like across the islands.
A bill was even introduced in the state House of Representatives this year that would have prevented the state from sweeping away the camp.
But officials with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which owns the parcel and the boat harbor, have said there have been mounting complaints and that the agency needs to address serious issues regarding hygiene, rubbish, excessive water use at the harbor and the destruction of natural and cultural resources.
The bill to protect the encampment was tabled after representatives received assurances from the governor’s office it was working with the Waianae folks on a plan to move them into transitional or permanent housing.
State Rep. Cedric Gates, whose West Oahu district includes Pu‘uhonua o Waianae, told colleagues at the time it was important to avoid compounding the homeless problem on the Waianae Coast and elsewhere by sweeping or removing the people from the encampment.
“The plan right now is to work closely with the governor’s office to develop a comprehensive plan on how we will transition these families into transitional housing as well as permanent housing, because I think that’s the goal for that encampment — to get people housed,” said Gates (D, Waianae-Makaha-Makua).
Borge said the people of the camp were disappointed with Tuesday’s announcement. She said she’s afraid it will lock the state into their plan — without giving the Pu‘uhonua o Waianae nonprofit a chance to find a new location for the camp.
“We’ve been in talks with them for two years,” Borge said. “During the meetings it was always their way or no way.”
She denied claims that the camp’s residents were abusing the land.
Meanwhile, Chung-Lono, an eight-year resident of the camp, said her neighbors are on edge.
“There’s a lot of us here that call this home,” she said. “It’s hard. This gave me a sense of belonging, some kind of purpose to live.
“If they sweep us out of here before they even secure a piece of land that we want to go to … it’s going to be looking like Kakaako on the sidewalk out there,” she said, pointing to Farrington Highway. “We are not Kakaako. We are Waianae. We are a village of people that care about our community.”