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Task force addresses Kakaako campsite

    U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz spoke at a news conference Monday following a weekly meeting with the Leadership Team on Homelessness in the executive chambers at the state Capitol. With Schatz were state Rep. Scott Saiki, left, state Sen. Jill Tokuda, Gov. David Ige and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.
    Scott Morishige

The size and makeup of the Kakaako homeless encampment continues to fluctuate as state, city and federal officials work to figure how — and when — to start clearing out the first groups of people, Gov. David Ige said Monday.

While announcing the state’s new homeless coordinator — Scott Morishige, executive director of the PHOCUSED nonprofit and advocacy organization — Ige said a census of the Kakaako encampment last week showed it had fallen below the last estimate of 300 people, although Ige declined to reveal the updated number until all of the data is ready for release.

“The number is changing every single day,” Ige said. “It’s different people that are in Kakaako now. … It was very helpful for us because it allows us to understand the challenges better. More importantly, it allows us to identify shelter space that may be vacant today.”



>> Title: Governor’s coordinator on homelessness
>> Background: Executive director of PHOCUSED, a nonprofit and advocacy organization for health and human services
>> Education: Master’s in social work, child and family practice, University of Hawaii at Manoa; B.A. in political science, Oregon State University

The survey is required for the state to be eligible for federal money for homeless programs, Ige said. The data break down the Kakaako homeless population by income and whether they’re single, couples or families in order to match them with suitable beds and social services.

“We know more about the homeless now in Kakaako than we did last week,” Ige said.

The encampment has been the focus of intense scrutiny as assaults have skyrocketed, including the June 29 mob attack on state Rep. Tom Brower.

Ige said Mayor Kirk Caldwell agreed to delay the first sweep of the encampment — they prefer the term “phased enforcement” — until an accurate head count can be made.

“The federal government has really made homelessness as an issue data-driven,” Ige said. “The federal money is required to come down to the state only if we can put a data system in place and collect data on the homelessness that would allow us to have a more data-driven, thoughtful solution.”

Turning to Caldwell, Ige said the “mayor was nice enough to delay enforcement so that we could capture the data.”

Once the first 10 or 15 homeless people are asked to leave Kakaako, the goal will be to match them up with the appropriate bed space — and provide transportation to get them there, Ige said.

“We are working with the (service) providers trying to understand exactly where and when those spaces are available and then look at when we can begin the phased enforcement,” he said.

At the same time, Ige said, his 3-week-old Governor’s Leadership Team on Homelessness is “looking at why they’re not filled and trying to understand why that is.”

At the same time Monday, the state Department of Transportation postponed its second planned homeless cleanup this month.

On Aug. 3 the DOT cleared out its property along Harding Avenue across from the Market City Shopping Center that had been the site of a small but growing homeless encampment that expanded after the city’s “sit-lie” ban forced people out of Waikiki.

Immediately after the DOT sweep, though, at least two homeless occupants returned.

The DOT had planned to follow up by clearing out the persistent homeless encampment underneath the H-1 freeway Airport Viaduct on Monday.

But Ige said it’s clear that homeless people were likely to return, or migrate into Kakaako or to the homeless encampment along the Kapalama Canal.

Caldwell and Ige were joined Monday at a Capitol news conference by U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz following the third weekly meeting of Ige’s new Governor’s Leadership Team on Homelessness.

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono is represented on the committee by Alan Yamamoto, Hirono’s state director. Schatz is represented by longtime Democratic Party insider Chuck Freedman.

Schatz said he spoke with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro “at length about the challenges we face in Honolulu.”

“Hawaii is different,” Schatz said. “We haven’t seen the same kind of statistical progress they’ve been able to make in other cities. … Whatever has worked elsewhere has not worked here.”

Schatz said he’s trying to help HUD officials understand “exactly what’s happening in Hawaii.”

Since last week’s update on the Governor’s Leadership Team on Homelessness, Ige said, “definitely lots of things have happened in the last seven days.”

Three new positions will be filled that will be “more responsive to moving programs along” that come out of the committee, Ige said.

A member of the governor’s leadership team, state Sen. Jill Tokuda, chairwoman of the powerful Senate Ways and Means Committee, said lawmakers also have agreed to expedite $5 million in emergency appropriations at the beginning of the next legislative session “to really make departments whole” to deal with homelessness.

“This is not just DHS’ problem,” Tokuda (D, Kailua-Kaneohe) said in reference to the state Department of Human Services. “This is everyone’s solution that we will bring to the table.”

Last week Tokuda said that four or five department directors stepped up and asked, “What can we do to help with this issue?”

Schatz added, “This is going to require all of our collective engagement, and it’s going to require a phased approach. … We also ought to recognize that this isn’t going to get solved overnight.”

Morishige, the new homeless coordinator, did not attend Monday’s news conference. He’s scheduled to join the administration Aug. 24.

But Ige hinted at the urgency of the situation when he said, “He obviously started today.”

In addition to leading PHOCUSED, Morishige also managed programs for the Hawaii Community Foundation and Helping Hands Hawaii and has worked with Alu Like Inc., the Salvation Army and Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, along with having experience in the Legislature.

Morishige, Ige said, “definitely will be able to hit the ground running.”

Caldwell called Morishige “a champion for all of us. … More is going to get done.”

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