An outpouring of concern and support for nearly 260 homeless people living near the Waianae Boat Harbor encourages Twinkle Borge to work even harder for those who call the area home.
A leader in the encampment situated on about 19 acres of preservation-zoned state land between Waianae High School and the boat harbor, Borge is looking into forming a nonprofit to help generate funding for her “houseless” community known as Puuhonua O Waianae Village.
“‘Puuhonua’ means sacred place, city of refuge. That’s what we are. We’ve been here this long, a good steward of the land, I know we have been,” said Borge, 46, who has lived in the encampment for more than 10 years. “We one community here, recognized now as a community.”
Also, Borge is making inquiries about leasing the wooded land on which the encampment sits. In addition to homeless single adults, the community includes about 15 families with children ranging in age from babies to high-schoolers, as well as about 140 dogs. She estimates that all but about 20 people there are of Hawaiian descent.
The leasing concept could be similar to that in place for Puuhonua O Waimanalo or “Refuge of Waimanalo,” a community established in the mid-1990s by Hawaiian activist Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele’s Nation of Hawaii.
In 1993 — the centennial anniversary of the Kingdom of Hawaii’s overthrow — Kanahele led a group of Hawaiian nationalist-minded people in the occupation of Makapuu Beach Park. Kanahele ended a subsequent 15-month occupation in exchange for a lease of 45 acres of state-owned land. The majority of Refuge of Waimanalo’s residents, who live in modest structures of various designs, are Hawaiian and grow taro on the land.
Puuhonua O Waianae Village has started gardening to grow food, too, Borge said.
Earlier this month, the Waianae Coast Neighborhood Board voted to support the ongoing leadership of Borge and her team at the encampment. Some attendees spoke about a sense of order and closeness among those living at the harbor encampment, noting that they abide by simple community rules that emphasize no stealing and respect for one another.
Borge has appointed captains in areas of the encampment to help maintain order, and she holds monthly meetings to inform people about visiting agencies and any newcomers in the community.
The neighborhood board also voted to support Borge’s initiative to lease the land, as well as provide the homeless living at the encampment with adequate water, bathrooms and trash pickup.
Board Chairman Cedric Gates said leasing the land would be a good short-term solution until long-term efforts are put in place to create permanent housing for the homeless living near the harbor.
“The boat harbor has provided some of our unofficial emergency shelter,” Gates said. “There’s a consensus in the community that we want to see these people housed with four walls and be provided security and safety … for the families and children. Until we can get something in place so they can transition to a permanent residence or a transition shelter or program, we feel that it is appropriate to support the leasing of the land.”
Deborah Ward, spokeswoman for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which manages the boat harbor property, said in an email that “the matter is under discussion” and “we are considering all options.”
During the neighborhood board meeting on Dec. 1, Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator, said there are no plans to have a sweep of the encampment at this time. He said he plans to address homelessness near the harbor by working with Borge and her leadership team, as well as residents and local service providers.
The state has contracts with two organizations for homeless outreach on the Leeward Coast: Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center and Kealahou West Oahu.
“There are distinct levels of differences in the homeless population here (Leeward Coast), and we need to really understand what those differences are so that we can target our resources, develop strategies that are really going to help those living in shelter to quickly transition into permanent housing,” Morishige said. “We do know homelessness is a very complex issue. There aren’t going to be any magic-bullet solutions.”
Regarding leasing the land, Morishige said: “The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness generally do not support safe zones as a best practice. But I think that we want to make sure that we fully understand what the community is proposing and that’s why it’s important that we have the community dialogue.”
State Sen. Maile Shimabukuro (D, Kalaeloa- Waianae-Makaha) said it could be beneficial to explore other possible housing options for the homeless living near the harbor, including the use of container homes or trailer parks. She said she would defer to DLNR on the decision on whether to lease the land.
“There was an outpouring of support from the community for the residents of the boat harbor,” Shimabukuro said of community members’ testimony at the neighborhood board meeting. “It will be interesting to see how this proceeds.”
About two months ago, the city proposed building modular housing for homeless families on a 1.1-acre site near Waianae High School, next to Maluhia Lutheran Church on Farrington Highway. The idea drew criticism from some residents who maintain that such housing is not a good fit for the community and the property. Borge said she loved the idea, but expressed concern about possible flooding on the property. She suggested that money should be first invested in existing resources, such as outreach programs and standing shelters.
An estimated 4,900 people are homeless on Oahu, and about half of that population is unsheltered.
On the Waianae Coast, a count conducted this year estimated that there are 1,023 sheltered homeless and 369 unsheltered. There are at least 16 homeless encampments in Waianae, according to an estimate from the office of state Rep. Andria Tupola (R, Kalaeloa-Ko Olina-Maili), which consulted with local service providers.
Many of the homeless islandwide — about 42 percent — fall into the “rapid re-housing” category, which means that they’re contending with moderate health and behavioral problems but “are likely to be able to achieve housing stability over a short period” through medium- or short-term rent subsidies or case-management services.
On the Leeward Coast, 39 percent of the homeless population fits into that category, Morishige said.
Those who need the most support and services make up 33 percent of the islandwide homeless population. On the Leeward Coast, that group makes up 22 percent of the homeless population.
About 25 percent of Oahu’s homeless population may only need access to affordable housing or a one-time payment for the first month’s rent or a deposit. That group on the island’s Leeward side is about 39 percent. About 63 percent of homeless families on the Leeward Coast also fall under this category.
Morishige said the state is looking to follow a framework of short-term goals, which include identifying and mapping resources and maximizing existing shelter space. Long-term goals would seek to provide sustainable funding, development of permanent housing and creation of private-public partnerships.
Among Borge’s short-term goals for Puuhonua O Waianae Village are installation of three showers run on propane and 16 bathrooms. Currently, a hose is used for showers, and there is access to a public bathroom, which closes at about 3 p.m., and one donated portable toilet, she said.
More than a decade ago, when Borge moved to the harbor encampment, she recalled only seven people living there.
Regarding the neighborhood board’s recent endorsement of her efforts and support voiced by other area residents, Borge said, “that was very surprising to me because in the past, we always had to build the relationship with the community.”
She added, “To actually hear them support us and be behind us 100 percent gives me even more hopes.”