A clear majority of the state’s registered voters remain supportive of the idea of safe zones for homeless encampments where people could stay without fear of getting repeatedly removed, according to the results of the latest Honolulu Star-Advertiser Hawaii Poll.
Of those polled, 62 percent said they support safe zones while 20 percent oppose them, a 3-to-1 margin. The remaining 18 percent of those who responded said they were undecided.
The telephone poll of 800 registered voters statewide was conducted July 6-11 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy of Washington, D.C. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
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The poll numbers are strikingly similar to the Hawaii Poll taken in March, when 62 percent of those responding said they supported safe zones, 18 percent said they opposed them and 20 percent were undecided.
The support for safe zones was fairly the same regardless of age, sex, ethnicity, party identification or region. The demographic showing the least support was men, with 57 percent compared with 66 percent of women. The most support is among Caucasians with 69 percent.
One of Oahu’s biggest homeless encampments — Pu‘uhonua o Waianae, next door to the Waianae Small Boat Harbor — had once been considered a potential model for what government-sanctioned homeless “safe zones” could look like across the islands. But complaints about unsanitary conditions and environmental damage led to debate over establishment of safe zones at this year’s Legislature.
Despite reservations from the governor and Honolulu mayor that homeless “tent cities” have drawbacks, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 2401, calling for the establishment of an “ohana zones” pilot project with at least six sites throughout the state. The bill came with a $30 million earmark.
Safe zones have now become a point of contention in this year’s gubernatorial election campaign.
Gov. David Ige, without fanfare, last week signed the bill into law even though his administration had voiced reservations about the measure throughout the session, stating that safe zones had been ineffective where used on the mainland. Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, Ige’s chief opponent in the Aug. 11 Democratic primary, said she supports safe zones as a “promising approach” and criticized Ige for foot-dragging on the issue.
Scott Morishige, Ige’s coordinator on homelessness, said Monday that the administration still opposes the notion of tent cities. Nonetheless, he said, there is enough flexibility in the Legislature’s bill to be able to use the money for other homeless initiatives.
The bill defines an ohana zone as a place “that has a program to address basic needs of individuals experiencing homelessness” and “where wrap-around services, social and health care services, transportation and other services may be offered with the goals of alleviating poverty and transitioning individuals experiencing homelessness into affordable housing.”
“We’re committed to continuing to look at strategies that focus on permanent housing and creating a quick pathway to permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness in the community,” Morishige said. “We’re in discussion right now with some of the counties about projects that would be able to provide long-term housing with supportive services for people who are in shelters. What we need really to address the problem that we’re seeing right now is we don’t need just temporary or short-term solutions.”
He pointed to the Housing First programs that both the state and city have implemented where permanent housing and supporting services are given priority.
“We believe that the ohana zone funding may provide us some flexibility to do that,” Morishige said.
Hanabusa, in a statement, suggested that Ige should stick to the original intent of the bill.
“We need strong leadership to implement a comprehensive, coordinated plan on homelessness — something that the Ige administration never did,” Hanabusa said. “Four years in, and the Ige administration still has not come up with a comprehensive plan. That is inexcusable.”