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Homeless cleared from Old Kona Airport

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Mayor Harry Kim helped clear the way for the sweep of the county park at Old Kona Airport by declaring a state of emergency Wednesday.

After Hawaii County officials this week swept 68 homeless people from an encampment at the Old Kona Airport, 17 were placed in shelters or long-term housing, while the fate of the rest remains unclear.

Twenty-three people from the old airport were expected to sleep in a “temporary” site outdoors, on cots and under a canopy, at a nearby site called Camp Kikaha — also known as “The Friendly Place,” said Lance Niimi, Hawaii County’s assistant housing administrator.

But as of Friday “those spaces have not been filled,” said Brandee Menino, chief executive officer of HOPE Services, a nonprofit group working with the county at Camp Kikaha to help Hawaii island’s homeless, including those from the Old Kona Airport.

No one knows what happened to the homeless from Old Kona Airport who did not show up at Camp Kikaha, as expected.

And they certainly don’t know what happened to the 28 other former occupants of the Old Kona Airport encampment who had no intention of going into a shelter and were not expected at Camp Kikaha.

“There is not enough shelter space, and there certainly is not enough affordable-housing inventory in the community,” Menino said. “That is the biggest barrier.”

How long the homeless from the Old Kona Airport can sleep on cots at Camp Kikaha is unclear, Niimi said.

“It’s a temporary arrangement,” he said.

Even if all 23 people from the Old Kona Airport actually showed up at Camp Kikaha, as they said they would, there would not have been enough cots, Niimi said.

There were only 22 cots to start with, and one of them broke, Niimi said. Officials were trying to find more, he said.

Camp Kikaha, on Pawai Place in the Old Kona Industrial Area about a mile from the Old Kona Airport, also includes a homeless shelter and longer-term “micro-units” built out of shipping containers. Clients also receive homeless-related assistance, including some donated meals.

For the homeless from the Old Kona Airport who are expected to sleep outside, on cots, “the plan is not long-term,” Niimi said.

Mayor Harry Kim helped clear the way for the sweep of the county park at Old Kona Airport by declaring a state of emergency Wednesday.

Ultimately, Kim hopes his declaration leads to a permanent housing solution for the Old Kona Airport occupants on state-owned land associated with Kamakana Villages, The Associated Press reported.

Kim hopes to use the land around Kamakana Villages to build affordable housing and possibly market-rate housing, according to the AP. But he also hopes to quickly clear the land and set up tents, showers, portable toilets and drinking water for those from the Old Kona Airport homeless encampment, the AP reported.

During a Facebook Live video chat Friday, Gov. David Ige and his homeless coordinator, Scott Morishige, were asked about neighbor island homeless issues, and Morishige specifically mentioned the Old Kona Airport sweep.

Ige recently toured the Camp Kikaha facility run by HOPE Services and said, “I was impressed by their program (and) their commitment to focus on the individuals. … I truly was impressed how quickly that facility came on line … to really look at getting these people into a stable environment.”

In the meantime, while Mayor Kim works to develop long-term homeless solutions, Niimi said private security guards have been hired for the Old Kona Airport to make sure that the homeless who were swept this week don’t return.

Niimi acknowledged that many more details need to be worked out to find a permanent solution for the people forced from Old Kona Airport.

“A lot of this is a work in progress,” he said.

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