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Councilmen intent on tent cities, ‘hygiene centers’

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Some civic leaders, notably City Council Chairman Ernie Martin, want to use city-owned properties such as the ground floor of the Chinatown Gateway Plaza, above, for hygiene centers for homeless people.

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The Hauula Civic Center, where City Council chair Ernie Martin wants to convert into Honolulu’s first urban rest stop for the homeless, with showers, toilets, laundry facilities and include social service workers to help homeless people get cleaned up, find jobs, etc. 54-010 Kukuna Road in Hauula, Friday, March 25, 2016.

City Council Chairman Ernie Martin and at least two other Council members want to mimic Seattle-style public showers and tent cities across Oahu.

And they want them now.

Asked last week when he expects to unveil either the first so-called “hygiene center” or tent city in his district, Martin said, “Yesterday, man. I’m impatient. Very impatient.”

The concept of hygiene centers and tent cities is being endorsed by Martin and Councilmen Trevor Ozawa and Joey Manahan. Those steps would augment the city’s nascent Hale Mauliola community on state land on Sand Island, where formerly homeless clients live in converted shipping containers and get on-site social serv-ice help.

Martin, Ozawa and Manahan prefer to call the tent cities “temporary encampments,” but they do not agree on all of the details for either concept.

Manahan, for example, contends that in his district in Mapunapuna or Iwilei, it makes sense to put a hygiene center (or “urban rest stop”) in close proximity to a tent city, giving homeless people coordinated access to social service agencies. Martin, however, is reluctant to pair them.

“I don’t want to develop a ghetto,” Martin said.

But all three Council members are in favor of hygiene centers and tent cities after seeing them during separate visits last year to Seattle. Like Honolulu, expensive and tourist-friendly Seattle is struggling to deal with its own homeless problem.

“I was very impressed with what I saw,” Manahan said.

Like Martin and Ozawa, Manahan has criticized the city’s only version of a homeless hygiene center. On North Pauahi Street it’s next to the city’s Pauahi Hale low-income housing complex that was renovated last year at a cost of $120,000.

They say it’s too small, dark, dirty and uninviting, and does not provide the social service help that homeless people need to successfully move off the street.

Honolulu desperately needs to build more affordable housing, Manahan said, but in the meantime, “I see hygiene centers and the temporary encampments as part of the solution.”

Federal officials discourage tent cities and say they typically are promised as “temporary” only to become permanent.

They specifically cite Seattle, which this year saw its homeless population jump by 19 percent from last year.

Jennifer Leimaile Ho — the Washington, D.C.-based senior adviser on housing and services for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (and niece of the late entertainer Don Ho) — told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in February:

“We can’t think of a single community where a tent city was a critical part of their success. It is a distraction of effort. You’re thinking you’re doing something that’s temporary, and it ends up being permanent. It’s not a solution. Band-Aids don’t work.”

Matthew Doherty, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, said in an email, “We don’t believe that such approaches create real progress toward ending people’s homelessness or solving the challenges communities face. Instead, these approaches can distract a disproportionate share of communities’ time, effort, and resources away from the solutions we all need to focus on: providing better and greater access to permanent housing opportunities that are matched with the right level of services to be successful. At the same time, however, efforts focused on sweeping or clearing encampments or tent cities don’t create real, lasting solutions either, and make it harder to provide people with the help they need and deserve.”

But Sharon Lee of the nonprofit Low Income Housing Institute, which runs three of Seattle’s tent cities, said, “Frankly, the Interagency Council is behind the times and is old school. Homelessness has increased during their time, so I can’t say they’re effective.”

Martin’s office spent $2,500 to bring out Lee in February and plans to fly her back to consult on how best to build Oahu’s own version of government-sanctioned tent cities and showers for homeless people.

Two of the tent cities that Lee’s group runs are on city land, and the third is on private land. They use a mix of camping tents and 8-by-12-foot “tiny houses” that include heat and electricity.

The locations are supposed to rotate every few years, and private landowners get tax breaks, a concept that Martin likes as an incentive to find appropriate sites on Oahu.

But instead of building a $1.5 million shower facility complete with toilets, sinks, washers and dryers, and social service workers, as Lee’s group has done in Seattle, Martin prefers to renovate underused city property, such as the ground floor of Chinatown’s Gateway Plaza or the Hauula Civic Center, which would presumably lower costs, although Martin had no dollar estimates.

“Conceptually there’s some really positive things about it,” said Dotty Kelly Paddock, vice president of the Hauula Community Association, which uses the civic center. “Homeless people use the restrooms at the civic center, and they thank me because they at last have a place to clean up and use the toilet. There could be some merit to this idea. “

Dee Dee Letts, a member of the Koolauloa Neighborhood Board, said, “The concept is good. The devil’s in the details and the implementation. We don’t need to create more problems than we’re trying to solve.”

Ozawa wants to divert $900,000 from the Waikiki King’s Village development project “community benefits package” to provide one or more urban rest stops in the Waikiki portion of his district.

Martin wants each Council member to be allocated $2 million to develop ideas that make sense for each of the nine Council districts. He calls tent cities and hygiene centers “high-priority ticket items,” and plans to be the first to open one in his district, which includes Mililani Mauka, Wahiawa, Mokuleia, Waialua, Haleiwa, Pupukea, Sunset Beach, Kahuku, Laie, Hauula, Punaluu, Kahana, Kaaawa, Kualoa, Waiahole and Kahaluu.

“I like to lead by example,” Martin said. “I want to show them the way. It’s the best way. … We’re dealing with our own, our neighbors, our neighbors’ children. Most people realize that the problem already exists. It’s easier for us to deal with them proactively than reactively. If we don’t provide facilities for the basic necessities for life, we can look at public restrooms continuing to be in less than usable shape.”

In August, 81 percent of people surveyed in the Hawaii Poll said they were in favor of providing shelter and basic needs to homeless people on Sand Island “and similar areas.”

The poll also found that 62 percent of respondents would even support a temporary shelter in their own neighborhood.

Each Council district interested in a tent city or hygiene shelter should decide what’s appropriate, Martin said.

For instance, he said, Waikiki would likely welcome a hygiene center — intended to keep urine and feces off sidewalks while allowing people to shower, wash clothes and get social service help.

But Martin said that Waikiki tourists and businesses might not be as accepting of a city-sanctioned tent city, which he imagines would rely on 120-square-foot “tiny houses” to comply with permitting issues.

Louis Erteschik, vice chairman of the Waikiki Neighborhood Board, agreed with Martin’s assessment.

“You hear people complaining all the time, ‘They’re peeing on the beach. They’re doing this and that,’” Erteschik said. “If they don’t have some place to do it, then what do you expect? The concept makes sense to give people a place to clean up.”

At the same time, Erteschik said, “speaking for myself, I’m reluctant to say a tent city is a good idea for Waikiki. If you put up a tent city or a bunch of small houses, it’s not great for tourism. I’d be leery of endorsing it without hearing more details.”

Ozawa embraces the idea of both hygiene centers and tent cities for his district, which runs from East Honolulu through parts of Kapahulu, Diamond Head, Black Point, Waikiki and Ala Moana Beach Park.

“I’d rather have them all in one area with their tents rather than all over with their tents,” Ozawa said. “We decide where these encampments are, not the other way around. My goal is to have something up and running as soon as possible. It can be done in a few months.”

Ozawa added, “The goal is to decrease the number of people who are homeless, and that’s something that’s better for everybody.”

47 responses to “Councilmen intent on tent cities, ‘hygiene centers’”

  1. jeffhonolulu says:

    My condo building is on Kapahulu, Waikiki

    More and more our parking garage is used for a toilet and a sleeping area. When the police are called they call homeless by name,but unfortunately they will do nothing to make them move. Just one time tho they did arrested one nutcase when he went running around without underpants on.

    • lespark says:

      It’s bad and getting worse. They do not look local but rather one ways from the mainland.
      They heard about the aloha.
      As a prerequisite, before dispensing entitlements we should require a permanent suitable, verifiable residence for all recipients. Not to is throwing money to the wind.

    • wiliki says:

      But the feds are eight. This is band aid legislation.

      • saywhatyouthink says:

        These councilmen must have found a new campaign contributor that sells tents and mini homes. Doesn’t Ernie know where the homeless folks are? It’s not hauula.
        There’s no need to have tents and bathroom facilities in all districts unless you’re trying to disperse the homeless problem islandwide. These fools just want their 2 million cut of the homeless pie, to spend in their district they way they think is best. And of course, whether it’s needed or not.

        • wiliki says:

          Rings true. The council should not go whole hog in an unsure and risky thing. Try it out first. Tent cities just get bigger.

  2. Manoahillside says:

    Hawaii already has a lot of tent cities under the bridges and in the bushes. WHY MAKE THEM LEGAL? They harbor drug addicts and criminals. If homeless really want to get back on their feet and follow the rules of society, they would seek assistance from one of the providers. The government provides millions in assistance. Nobody wants them in their neighborhood, because they spread crime. We should spend more money enforcing the law, not making it easier for criminals. The mentally ill on the streets are a different problem. They should be placed under the State’s care. OBVIOUSLY THEY CANNOT TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES. If they could shower, they still wouldn’t. Sometimes their lack of hygiene is evident.

  3. palani says:

    Tent cities with hygiene centers are absolutely the right way to go, at least until there’s a better alternative.

  4. whs1966 says:

    Don’t expect to see any tent cities and shower facilities in East Oahu. Also, as noted in the article, the “temporary” tent cities will likely become permanent, just like the supposedly temporary “portable” hot houses (classrooms) on nearly every public school campus. Many of these portables are over 40 years old, some over 50 years old.

  5. McCully says:

    These so called tent cities will benefit only a few as the homeless will still live in their filth.

  6. wiliki says:

    The council needs to approve more housing development.

  7. Keolu says:

    The council should approve one way tickets to the mainland with the disclaimer that whoever receives the ticket cannot collect welfare in Hawaii for at least 24 months.

  8. FARKWARD says:

    This is “A Good Thing”! Go For It Ernie! Imua!

  9. Oahuan says:

    The Hygiene Centers will only get trashed and destroyed anyway.

  10. Masami says:

    “Jennifer Leimaile Ho — the Washington, D.C.-based senior adviser on housing and services for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (and niece of the late entertainer Don Ho)”

    What’s the reason for the “name dropping”?

  11. wrightj says:

    You can lead a man to soap, but you can’t force him to take a bath.

  12. lee1957 says:

    The state has hundreds of empty beds in their shelters and the council wants to spend more money creating new homeless shelters. Brilliant!

  13. Narimatsu says:

    I am all for using the proposed space for having a public restrooms and area for them to clean up. Citing the example of using the Chinatown Gateway however, I live in that building and I am fine with its unused space for things but how about our safety? If this becomes a place for the homeless to gather who is going to ensure that the current tenants and residence who use this building won’t be intimidated, threatened or feel unsafe? There is also a daycare located on the lower level. Will they lose business because of safety concerns. If there is going to be some sort of security is the city going to provide the enforcement etc. There is a lot that the city must consider before just saying that the mainland solutions will work here.

    I know that the homeless issue has to be addressed and I am glad that they are talking just please look at what you are voting on before just blindly signing on. Please give the residents some consideration before just saying it will be fine…!!

  14. iwanaknow says:

    The homeless use Hauula Beach park (with bathrooms and a covered pavilion) because it is across from a 24/7 Seven-Eleven (booze & smokes)….a church group comes on Weds with free dinner….what more do you need?…….they say the Civic Center is too far away (1/4 mile away).

  15. fiveo says:

    Tent cities, hygiene centers are okay but that is just pretty much playing whack a mole. They only address the immediate situation but the real solution of course in economic
    that of building low income housing and jobs. Our politicians appear unwilling or unable to deal with real solutions and just want to band aid the problem, you know kick it down the

    • islandsun says:

      you are dreaming. Very few will take a job or affordable housing. They rather be on the beach or parks. Stop glamorizing the homeless it just creates more.

  16. CAHAOLE says:

    Tourism is income for business in Waikiki. Do you really think tourists will be making return visits with a homeless tent city or hygiene center in the King’s Village center? I think maybe these idea people need a reality check. Maybe bettah ask Bloomingdales & high end merchants moving into International Market Place…….

  17. justmyview371 says:

    Martin’s idiot of giving each Council Member $2 million to spend is one of the dumbest proposals I’ve heard. You can’t split up the pot and actually plan worthwhile solutions. It would help them campaign however.

  18. Hotel says:

    The Waikikian Hotel did this, for free, mid ’90s. A cabana (tent) at the foot of the Ilikai Hotel ramp. Astro turf. Worked nice.

    • FARKWARD says:

      “Andre” had “HEART”, albeit his ego was warped. I miss the Lei and Mai Tai Greetings and I miss the fountain at the Tahitian Lanai and the Banana Muffins and Popovers, and “Harry” sitting at his poolside table with his cane–“holding court”. The people who are so worried about the cost aren’t thinking. Would you rather walk down Bishop, Fort Street, Ala Moana, Kalakaua, Kuhio Avenue–tip-toeing around feces and urine, etc. rather than pay a pittance for a toilet-facility? Many European Countries have provided such amenities for the public–for decades. Time to “arrive”! (“Chin Ho” would approve..) ALOHA!

  19. 9ronboz says:

    Who’s paying for this and what is the running cost?

  20. OIOIO says:

    Tent cities and hygiene centers should first be placed on Honolulu Hale grounds and the State Capitol lawn. I bet there would be less foot-dragging if they see it at their work places every day.

  21. localguy says:

    As usual our utterly clueless elected bureaucrats are long on talk and lacking on details. City Council Chairman Ernie Martin didn’t have a clue how much it would cost to build and operate his “Hygiene Centers.” As usual he expects voters to “Trust Him” to get it done.

    Sorry Ernie, you lack credibility. Until you can provide the exact cost to set up these centers, how much it will cost for O&M, and where the money is coming from, your dreams are dead on arrival.

    For once do your job to cut fraud and waste from government spending, use that money to fund the centers. No more new taxes, no more new bureaucratic money pits. What were you thinking Ernie? Give us a break.

  22. danji says:

    Though this is good for the homeless health it only encourages the people to live as a homeless.the elected officials are just looking for band aid fixes right now. They should be looking for cures to the homeless situations if there is any.

  23. amazon65 says:

    Put the first tent city in Martin’s neighborhood followed by Kimberly Marcos Pine’s…..ooooohhhh, can’t do the latter….she lives in a gated community overlooking the Hoakalei Golf Course……

  24. Kuokoa says:

    How about some trailer parks where homeless can rent at a nominal fee?

  25. sahara11 says:

    If you build it they won’t come

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