Gov. David Ige plans to use a portion of the $30 million in funding that the Legislature appropriated this year for creating homeless “ohana zones” to expand emergency shelter space, renovate existing shelters and support permanent housing for the homeless, stretching the legislative intent of the measure, which initially had envisioned government-sanctioned homeless camps.
Ige also announced that he had signed an emergency proclamation that will, in part, suspend procurement laws to help expedite the creation of shelter space and housing and the provision of homeless services.
“I’m excited because this opportunity will allow us to continue the momentum and reduce the number of homeless all across the state. We are focused on using every tool that we have,” said Ige during a Friday press conference. “I wanted to thank the Legislature for making this appropriation, the $30 million, to establish the ohana zone program.”
But Ige’s plans already have elicited criticism from a key lawmaker in the state House of Representatives who backed the ohana zones legislation. House Majority Leader Della Au Belatti called Ige’s plan “a little bit sparse” and said that she looked forward to more detail when the Ige administration submits its report to the Legislature filling in details of the ohana zones program. The report is due Dec. 27.
Gov. David Ige intends to use $17.3 million of the $30 million that the Legislature appropriated over a three-year period for the state’s “ohana zones” program for the following:
Villages of Maili
>> Catholic Charities Hawaii will operate an 80-unit facility in Leeward Oahu that will provide long-term housing and emergency shelter space for homeless.
>> Funding: $7.5 million
City and County of Honolulu
>> The Ige administration will provide the city with funding for 60 permanent housing units at three sites that have yet to be named.
>> Funding: $4.5 million
Youth shelter services
>> Residential Youth Services & Empowerment will expand its youth homeless shelter at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility and add medical and outreach services.
>> Funding: $1.8 million
>> Funds will be used to renovate two state-owned shelters in Kalaeloa.
>> Funding: $2 million
Na Kahua Hale o Ulu Wini
>> Thirteen units will be converted to permanent supportive housing, and 10 units will be used as emergency shelter.
>> Funding: $1.5 million
“I think that we would have liked to see a little bit more innovation, to use a word that the governor had used in his inauguration speech,” said Belatti. “A little bit more thinking outside of the box.”
She also called a key part of Ige’s plan — housing homeless at an 80-unit facility on the Leeward Coast, where homeless had been forced to leave earlier this year — “puzzling.”
Ige’s plan so far only details how he intends to use $17.3 million of the $30 million in available funding, which covers several projects on Oahu and one on the Big Island. He said projects on Maui and Kauai would be announced later, noting that both counties had new mayors and he wanted more time to work with the new administrations.
Act 209, which lays out parameters for the ohana zones program, requires that at least three sites for the homeless be identified on Oahu and one site each on the Big Island, Kauai and Maui.
The term “ohana zones” is loosely defined in the measure, but in earlier iterations of the concept referred to government-sanctioned camps that included homeless services, sometimes referred to as “safe zones.”
The act notes that while safe zones are controversial, “the Legislature finds that addressing homelessness requires the courage to try something new.”
The Ige administration has opposed safe zones, and Ige told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in July that he would not use the funding to create encampments, saying that they haven’t shown to ultimately help in solving the homeless problem and can end up costing as much or more than permanent housing.
Ige said Friday that the measure was flexible in how the funding could be used. “It allows us to make investments in these programs that we know work and expand it to areas that are not currently being served,” he said.
The ohana zones program is meant as a pilot, and the $30 million was allocated over three years.
Ige’s plan includes using $7.5 million over three years to provide permanent housing and emergency shelter at the Villages of Maili in Leeward Oahu. The 80-unit facility, which includes studios and two-bedroom apartments, operated as a transitional homeless shelter for a decade. However, it ceased operations in October, and the residents were forced to relocate after the state’s lease with the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands expired.
The Hawaiian Homes Commission voted in October to extend the lease for one year but is looking at using the facility to house only Hawaiian beneficiaries, making it unclear whether the Ige administration will be able to continue serving homeless at the facility for the full three years.
The transitional shelter had been operated by Alternative Structures International. Catholic Charities Hawaii will now operate the facility and is expected to use 48 units for permanent supportive housing and 32 units for emergency shelter, serving an estimated 340 people per year.
Ige’s plan also includes providing $1.5 million annually over three years to the City and County of Honolulu to provide 60 units of permanent, supportive housing at three different locations, which have yet to be announced. Another $1.8 million is earmarked for expanding a youth shelter run by Residential Youth Services & Empowerment in Kailua to a total of 30 beds. Funding also will be used to fund medical and outreach services for the shelter program. Ige also intends to use $2 million to renovate two state-owned shelters at Kalaeloa.
The plan also includes using $1.5 million over three years to enhance services at Na Kahua Hale o Ulu Wini on Hawaii island where 13 units at the homeless shelter will be converted to permanent housing and 10 units for emergency shelter.
Ige said his administration will continue to look for other opportunities to use the funding.
“We do know that there is a tremendous need, and we are committed to finding and implementing projects that work in an expedited basis so that we can reduce the number of homeless individuals,” he said.