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Homeless leader of almost 260 people wants to lease Waianae site

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    Crystal Kealoha used wooden pallets to create a fence around her home at Puuhonua O Waianae Village.


    Garrald Gannigan raked up grass, weeds and other debris on the grounds of the encampment near the Waianae Boat Harbor.


    “Puuhonua means sacred place, city of refuge. That’s what we are,” said Twinkle Borge, leader of the Waianae encampment.


    Twinkle Borge gave Adam Luafalemana a ride on her yellow moped as they left the homeless encampment in Waianae.

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.”

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  • The lease will be paid by money from ???. The buildings and facilities will be brought up to code using money from ???. Utilities, sanitation, polices and fire services will be provided by ??? ???= taxpayers.

      • Without government regulations, you would not have running water, sewage systems, roads, structurally sound buildings, or any other basic public services. You would be living just like “THE PEOPLE” who are now asking the government to legalize their illegal squatting on public lands.

        • Government should focus on providing those core services and stop muddling in every other aspect of people’s lives. Government should not try to be all things to all people.

      • I was thinking the same thing Mike. What has she done to gain the respect of her homeless community that pretty much respects no one of legal authority?

        • Respect is something that is earned. It’s a mutual thing. Until now the homeless have been shoved around with no regard for their personal circumstances.

          The people in the Waianae encampment take a personal interest in each other’s welfare. They help each other. Better than some communities consisting of “real” houses.

  • If they’re good stewards of the aina and respect their surroundings and not an eye sore to the community, it’s a good temporary transition for the homeless.

  • Beware of a lease that will eventually be interpreted as permanent. Does anyone think that after a lease period of 5 or 10 years, the people living there will peacefully move off the land?

    • So like ants and termites, should we just exterminate them? Bumpy’s “land” does not set a good precedent for Hawaii. I would encourage all Native Hawaiians to also occupy Makapuu so that you too can get a place to live in this expensive land that we call Hawaii.

  • “….said Borge, 46, who has lived in the encampment for more than 10 years.”>>> So, it is a community that perpetuates the problem, not resolving it. ‘Nuf said.

  • All they need is a place to pitch a tent.
    more people would chose this option because it would have less restrictions.
    If you put them in a structured facility, they would be expected to show hope.
    Maybe we should ask them what they want, not force them to do what we want.
    A lot might choose to live in a tent and not be bothered!

  • Looking at the picture, I wonder where they got those pallets from they sure look new. 10 years and still there, never paid a penny toward any rent or improvement to the area. Who pays for the water they use or even their sewer charges, they do bathe and go don’t they?

      • each year, over two billion pallets are used in the u.s. most are wooden pallets designed for one time use, made from cheapest woods or discard pieces of lumber. so, most wooden pallets end up in landfills.

        using them as materials for fencing is a good way to keep them out of landfills.

        • Ala Moana SC has two huge dumpster that are always filled with good pallets to be burned in Caldwell’s H-Power plant.

        • nails, screws and staples need to be removed from pallets before they can be used at hpower. too expensive a process so they are rejected.

        • st1d. Same with the post office when recycling first began. The recyclers wanted us to remove the staples, and the plastic letter window. Hence, all that paper from the undeliverable mail went into the trash. Now is better. They take it as is.

  • So people have been living there for over 10 years and only now they’re proposing to lease the site? Does that mean they’re staying there illegally now? Are they going to be kicked out if they don’t lease the land? Seems like they just want to have a cheap place to stay regardless of how the land is zoned. Just imagine if everyone who wanted to did this across the island.

      • So what? You got something against Hawaiians out there running around with last names like Castro, Cuban, Arruda, Bertleman, Delima, Chang,…….etc.?

        • See below, oxtail01, “no insult to Portuguese”. Yet you are saying “podagee” is derogatory in nature toward Portuguese then what are you arguing about? This “loser” as you call her is recognized as a leader among the 260 homeless. Respect people for what they are instead of looking for some sort of twisted recognition for yourself. And no, my part Hawaiian friends that I fondly call “podagee” are not losers.

      • Watch out. Coddling people like, NanakuliBoss think that this, SA’s, website is for children only. Have to self sensor ourselves before he turns us in to Santa’s naughty list.

  • Compared to most other alternatives, this camp seems like a good idea. I like the fact that they police themselves so this is not a lawless ghetto. The one issue that I have is, I don’t see this as a long-term solution. Allowing this to continue indefinitely will eventually create a shanty town much like we see in third world countries.

  • I give her credit for bringing up a possible solution. $$ is spent anyway to try to enforce them, why not spend it to enable them…with restrictions of course. I don’t even know what is going on with Bumpy’s site, and his purpose was not meant to house homeless. It was pretty much given to him to shut him up, which is not right. Why not house homeless on his site also. Make a requirement of having Hawaiian lineage if that is the case. I got to say this, Bumpy played his cards right.

  • Is it just me, or does the word “sacred” get tossed around in this state like the word “the?”

    Sacred this, Sacred that, Sacred toilet paper, Sacred garbage truck, Sacred landfill, Sacred office, Sacred everything!

  • We’re giving a group of people who don’t work to support themselves, yet have kids and dogs, almost free access to 19 acres of water front land, with free utilities to live on ? Is it fair to rest of Hawaii taxpayers ?

  • The thing that bothers me most about this new leader “Borges” is the fact that she’s been living there for 10 years and has no plans or ambition to leave. Almost like a squatter, they begin to think they own the area after some time passes and now she wants taxpayers to make it more comfortable to live there.It seems she’s made herself the self proclaimed Mayor of this homeless village by virtue of being there the longest and is now appointing captains to keep the peace? That’s plain crazy, the state should put the brakes on this before it goes too far. Should the state condone this type of village governance – something bad will happen there, the state will get sued and the taxpayers will be left holding the bag as always.

    • I don’t live in their circles, but it wouldn’t surprise me that there is a spokesperson or leader of some type. Kind of like the ring leader in prisons who calls the shots. Would it be that far stretched to think someone has the unofficial top dog authority badge…Like Bumpy. Well, he was sort of self imposed leader, but this person is following along this same path. I give her credit for taking a stab at it. Though I agree with you in regards to Liability exposures to us tax payers.

    • If her opinions and direction is respected by 260 people I would call her a leader and a good spokesperson to listen to and negotiate with. A whole police substation would not be able to contain a riot of that size. Do you have any influence or better ideas? Putting down people is not going to make you look any smarter or prettier.

  • Whew the people! Homeless tries to make the most of their situation, they’re clobbered. Can’t we find an ounce of understanding and a heart full of love for the down trodden? We want the homeless off the streets and when they have found a place suitable for them – can we not give them the benefits of our doubts and give our support!? No government agency seem able to solve the blight of the homeless and these group are doing something about it! More power to them! Have a heart, I would rather support them than the monstrous rail!

    • It’s hard situation because they simply don’t have the funds to build shelters…. Govt needs to figure out how it can best help. One of the problems is unemployment and most of the jobs are in Honolulu and not Waianae. It takes about two hours by bus. And bringing services to Waianae is probably just as much a challenge.

      • Yet they have $300,000 to pay for HPD overtime while Obama is in town and more than $1.7M to pay for overtime at the boys detention center. It’s all about priorities.

  • DHHL and DLNR should work together on this. There should be some beneficiaries that would want to sponsor leasing DHHL land for a village like this? After all there is already 55 million that DHHL has not been able to spend on housing for Hawaiians.

  • Homeless in Waianae should have lived and stayed under the radar. They are starting to get greedy. But then most if not all humans, homeless or not are greedy.

  • It is not just about a piece of land. It is about playing by the rules. It is about a give and take society where there is some parity/give & take. In the real world as with the ocean … it is sink or swim … or in Hawaii you can join the take society that lives off of others … some times generation to generation … with no give back. It does not feel good.

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