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Legislators vow outdoor ‘safe zone’ for homeless

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    Reps. John Mizuno, right, and Tom Brower talked with Waikiki homeless yesterday, pledging to seek an outdoor "safe zone" for them. Rep. Rida Cabanilla was also present.
    Joe Damrell, sitting at table, talks about his experiences of being homeless in Waikiki. Though he says that the homeless do not commandeer picnic tables, it would probably be hard for someone to come and sit at the same table.

Three state representatives toured a homeless camp in Waikiki yesterday and pledged to bring together public and private landowners to create at least one outdoor area on Oahu where homeless people can live hassle-free.

The idea is to find an outdoor alternative for homeless people who refuse to live in shelters and abide by shelter rules, on a public or private plot of land somewhere away from tourist-heavy areas such as Kapiolani Park.

There is no money or land yet to create a "homeless safe zone" with showers, bathrooms and storage lockers, as proposed by Reps. Tom Brower, John Mizuno and Rida Cabanilla, "but we have to do something," Brower said. "This is a time to look at ideas because there are no easy solutions."

The representatives brought their idea of a homeless safe zone yesterday to a patch of Kapiolani Park next to the Waikiki Aquarium, where homeless people rest in tents and on blankets during the day—enjoying a priceless ocean view in plain sight of tourists—until police shoo them out each night.

Homeless people such as 58-year-old Joe Damrell have lived in the park off and on for three years. Like others yesterday, Damrell said he would welcome the chance to sleep uncontested outdoors in a safe area complete with bathrooms and storage for his air mattress and comforter.


State lawmakers will hold a briefing on Hawaii’s "chronically homeless" at 10 a.m. tomorrow in state Capitol Conference Room 325.

"It would be nice to have a place to be ourselves and not be hassled," Damrell said.

Asked how he would feel living away from an ocean view, Damrell said, "If it’s out of sight, out of mind, so be it."

The idea could cost as much as $100,000 to fund, or nothing at all if private firms donate facilities such as portable toilets, said Mizuno (D, Kamehameha Heights-Kalihi Valley-Fort Shafter).

Mizuno and Cabanilla (D, Waipahu-Honouliuli-Ewa) unsuccessfully backed a bill in the Legislature to create a pilot program that would initially spend $100,000 to buy one-way tickets to fly homeless people back to their hometowns, freeing them from relying on local resources.

But last month, Mizuno received monetary pledges from half a dozen people to fly a 39-year-old homeless man named Gregory Reese back to Seattle after his two job offers fell through on Oahu, leaving Reese homeless.

Yesterday’s visit to Kapiolani Park by Mizuno, Cabanilla and Brower (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana) came on the eve of a legislative briefing tomorrow to discuss Act 212, which was passed by the 2010 Legislature to address Hawaii’s chronically homeless population, who include people suffering from mental illness and addictions.

One of the topics tomorrow is the effect of sweeping out homeless camps, which often results in pushing homeless people into unintended areas.

"Homelessness is the hottest issue of the summer," Mizuno said.


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