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Hawaii News

New home for homeless

Jayna Omaye
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The Waianae lot where the city plans to build modular housing units for the homeless sits next to Maluhia Lutheran Church.
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A rendering of one of the units.

Twinkle Borge, who has lived in a homeless encampment near Waianae Boat Harbor for nearly 12 years, estimates that some 300 “houseless” individuals, including more than 25 families, live in the area.

She maintains that a new city proposal for temporary modular housing units in Waianae could help many of those people, especially children yearning for stable housing.

“I think by them being in a home, it would boost them even more,” said Borge, 46, who is known as a community leader in the encampment. “I think it would bring their spirit up.”

The city’s preliminary plans for the 1.1-acre site near Waianae High School and next to Maluhia Lutheran Church on Farrington Highway call for 16 to 20 modular units that could accommodate 75 to 90 people. The 480-square-foot units could feature two bedrooms, one bathroom and a kitchen. The property, which is currently vacant, could also provide 20 parking stalls, a common room and office.

City officials estimate that it will cost $300,000 to purchase the land and about $2 million for 20 units and a program office. Officials said they hope to purchase the land in October and issue a request for proposals by the end of the year. The project is slated for completion in the summer of next year.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell said Friday that the project aims to assist families with children.

“We want to get these families into homes where they can have a stable living environment, where they can have a kitchen and a bathroom, and they can have their family with them, their children, and feel secure,” Caldwell said at a news conference held in Waianae with several city and elected officials and community members.

“I think this is the absolute right and compassionate thing to do,” he added.

Officials are not sure at this point whether or how much tenants would be charged for rent or how long they will be able to stay in the housing, said Community Services Director Gary Nakata.

In another effort to address homelessness on Oahu, state and city officials are sizing up potential shelter properties, including an industrial parcel next to Pier 38 Honolulu Fishing Village on Nimitz Highway. And a transitional housing project on Sand Island is expected to feature 25 modular units for a total of 83 people that will be ready by the end of the year.

In recent weeks city workers have been trying to clear out a homeless encampment in Kakaako in phases. The city plans to conduct sweeps on two blocks of the area next week.

On Monday the sweep will take place on Keawe Street, from Ilalo Street to Ala Moana Boulevard; Ilalo Street, from Keawe to Coral streets; Coral Street, from Ilalo Street to Ala Moana Boulevard; and Ala Moana Boulevard, from Keawe to Coral (makai side only) streets, beginning at approximately 11 a.m.

On Tuesday, enforcement of the sidewalk nuisance and stored-property ordinances will take place on Coral Street, from Ilalo Street to Ala Moana Boulevard; Ilalo Street, from Coral to Cooke streets; Cooke Street, from Ilalo Street to Ala Moana Boulevard; and Ala Moana Boulevard, from Coral to Cooke streets, beginning at approximately 11 a.m.

One to two dozen tents occupied the two blocks Friday afternoon.

The sweeps are proceeding despite a class-action lawsuit filed Wednesday against the city by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of homeless in the Kakaako area. The lawsuit alleges that the city is violating the constitutional rights of the homeless who are being rousted from the area’s sidewalks by its enforcement of the stored-property and sidewalk nuisance ordinances.

According to a point-in-time count, there are about 4,900 homeless on Oahu this year, nearly 1,900 of whom are unsheltered. Families make up almost half of the island’s homeless population.

On the Waianae Coast the count estimates that there are nearly 370 unsheltered homeless and about 1,025 sheltered this year.

The city unveiled another modular housing project a few months ago for a 7,500-square-foot property on Halona Road in Waianae. The proposal called for three units measuring about 400 to 500 square feet, costing between $35,000 to $50,000 each, that would feature a bathroom, kitchen sink and counter area.

Sandra Pfund, chief of the city’s development office, said the city put out a bid to clear the land and will soon award the contract for the modular units.

But both of the city’s proposals prompted concerns from some residents and officials about prioritizing Waianae families and making sure that they are provided with effective services.

In the case of the Halona Road project, residents raised concerns about the size of the property as well as potential effects on property values and the ways tenants would be screened and monitored to ensure neighborhood safety.

State Sen. Maile Shimabukuro (D, Kalaeloa-Waianae-Makaha) said Friday that the project near Waianae High is convenient and a “desirable location for families,” praising the city for “thinking outside the box.” But she said it’s important that the development is run well and takes into account community input.

“I think it would be good to bring something positive to the area,” Shimabukuro said. “(But) I think it would be easier for the community to accept this if there were some assurances that it would be Waianae families in the units. The community doesn’t want this to become a draw for homeless around the state.”

Cedric Gates, member of the Waianae Coast Neighborhood Board, echoed that sentiment.

“Many of the community concerns (focus on) … making sure that we house our own people in the Waianae Coast and not make this a dumping ground for Kakaako, Waikiki or any other homeless areas out in Oahu right now,” Gates said Friday. “Putting money in our community is definitely a good thing for the Waianae Coast. I hope that this project can produce what the community wants to see in the community, which is something that doesn’t put an eyesore or a burden on community residents.”

Caldwell pointed out that his administration is committed to housing the Waikiki, downtown and west side homeless communities.

“The goal is to house the guys in the west side on the west side, the guys in urban Honolulu in urban Honolulu and the folks in Waikiki in Waikiki,” Caldwell said. “We’re not forgetting the west side. We’re going to do what we can to help the unique issues regarding west side homeless.”

As for Borge, she said she hopes area residents will be supportive of the project and maintains that the city’s plans need to include social services so that families contending with “hard luck” can get back on their feet and into permanent housing.

Borge said some people in her encampment are employed and could possibly afford to pay for rent but do not have enough money to pay for utilities.

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