Monday | September 25, 2017
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Old Kona airport cleanup seen as lesson for East Hawaii

Mayor Harry Kim said it probably will be January before the county is ready to take the next step in its efforts to safely house Hilo’s homeless — while at the same time cleaning up areas frequented by homeless individuals and families.

Kim said earlier this month that he hasn’t completed developing his plan to address East Hawaii homelessness, which will be modeled after what was done at Old Kona Airport Park. But he said much was learned from the steps taken so far at Old A.

An encampment, Hale Kikaha, was created with temporary canopies in the Old Kona Industrial Area. HOPE Services, the main provider of services for homeless people on the Big Island, has worked alongside county staff to find permanent housing. So have veteran service organizations and other agencies, nonprofits and volunteers from the community.

“That camp is much more successful than we all anticipated,” Kim said.

It became so popular that all 28 spaces filled rapidly.

Kim said the county tried to move too fast in Kona, so there was no land ready for a transitional encampment, no infrastructure such as portable toilets and a water supply and no food service. That ended up creating delays for the cleanup and relocation of the homeless at Old Kona Airport Park.

He wants to do things differently in Hilo.

Spots in Hilo where county officials have mentioned they will ask homeless residents to stop sleeping overnight include storefront doorways, on the grassy knoll near the soccer fields and in Mooheau Park near the bandstand and bus terminal.

But those actions remain more than three months away.

Kim identified three priorities for his evolving plan.

First, for East Hawaii, Kim said it’s essential to have time to prepare.

Second, he said it’s essential to identify a unique property and get it ready to serve the needs of homeless people displaced from other locations.

Third, Kim said long-term programs offering services such as mental health counseling, job coaching or case management must be identified and readied to provide assistance.

William Halversen, who previously ran unsuccessfully for the District 2 seat on the Hawaii County Council, said “there’s not enough people focusing on God and his people. What they’re focusing on is money.”

He wants to create a large concert venue in Hilo that would provide jobs for homeless people and financial grants, which could be funded by event profits, to prevent people from becoming homeless. Halversen said he plans to run for council again.

County officials are working to locate a space for the temporary Hilo shelter, which one man relaxing in a lawn chair with Halversen on Tuesday near the soccer fields said is essential. The men were sitting in a location where homeless people are known to congregate.

“That’s a very important piece of the puzzle,” said the man, who declined to identify himself. “Because, think of it, if it’s far away from the services …”

Kim said a site for the transitional shelter in Hilo has not yet been identified. But he knows one will be needed if all the homeless people along the bayfront get displaced.

“When you really get into it, you realize how important it is that we do it slowly, do it well and involve the whole community,” Kim said.

Email Jeff Hansel at jhansel@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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