State lawmakers are exploring setting up “safe zones” for homeless people to camp, one of an array of offbeat solutions to its homelessness crisis which ranks worst in the nation.
They’re also considering allowing people to lease their driveways for homeless people to live in cars or tents and allowing counties to set up parks featuring mobile homes, traditional Hawaiian thatched homes and shipping containers.
But Gov. David Ige’s office is fighting the bills, saying state-sanctioned homeless encampments are unsafe and contradict federal housing recommendations, risking Hawaii’s federal housing money.
Try ‘safe zones’ for homeless
“Some of these areas that are being identified as potential homeless campgrounds are very isolated, difficult for people to get to, so it’s not necessarily a given that even if you provide it that people would go there,” said Scott Morishige, the governor’s homelessness coordinator.
A state task force said sanctioned encampments are a bad idea because they encourage a nomadic lifestyle and divert money needed for permanent housing.
Portland and Seattle, which allowed legal camping, struggled with safety issues, just as Honolulu did when it set up a camp in the early ’90s that had to be shut down by police, Morishige said.
But the pace of new affordable housing development is not keeping up with demand, and the question of where people should go while the number of homeless people outstrips the number of homes and shelter beds remains unanswered.
Will Espero, chairman of the Senate Housing Committee, is pushing for a large-scale sanctioned encampment on Sand Island, an industrial area in Honolulu.
“At the very least, Sand Island today has recreational camping that at full capacity will hold 400 people,” Espero said. “You could have 400 people there tomorrow. But instead they’re living in parks.”
Tom Brower, chairman of the House Housing Committee, said Ige’s opposition to the bills is ironic because the state has allowed homeless encampments to exist.
“The only time they enforce is when the community screams and yells about it for months,” said Brower, who was attacked at a Honolulu homeless encampment two years ago when taking photos of living conditions. Setting aside places where people can legally camp, including driveways, would make it easier to enforce laws in other areas, he said.
“It’s not that we want people to camp in someone’s driveway,” Brower said, “but with the situation we have now people camping everywhere…would that stop them from camping somewhere else where they shouldn’t be?”