Council sets aside $300,000 for homeless camp

By Andrew Pereira
Published On: May 21 2013 06:54:00 PM HST

Councilman Stanley Chang discusses possible plans to build an official homeless camp on Oahu.

HONOLULU -

Honolulu City Councilman Stanley Chang wants to create a city-sanctioned homeless camp somewhere on Oahu and his idea appears to be gaining traction among colleagues. Bill 12, which maps out the city's capital improvement budget for the upcoming fiscal year, includes $300,000 to plan and design homeless camp facilities.

"It would need to be sizable, because you would need to have sanitation facilities (and) you would want to have the social service providers, such as drug and alcohol treatment (and) job training," Chang told KITV4. "You would (also) want to have security, so that people who are working could leave their belongings and then go to work."

Chang is calling his proposal Pu'uhonua, a reference to cities of refuge in ancient Hawaii where fugitives would seek shelter without fear of persecution. Chang envisions a grassy field with enough facilities nearby to satisfy the needs of residents. 

"We would have a parallel idea today," explained Chang. "There are a lot of chronically homeless people who are not necessarily good fits fop existing shelters, whether because of a substance abuse issue, a mental health issue (or) maybe because they have a pet."

Chang has yet to pick a site for the proposed camp, and bringing the idea to fruition will likely take another year or longer.  City spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke said Tuesday that Mayor Kirk Caldwell is not necessarily opposed to a city-sanctioned homeless camp, but noted that Chang's proposal utilizes general funds, while the mayor's Housing First action plan uses Community Development Block Grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  

"The mayor is open to the Chang proposal and all other Housing First initiatives that would get people off the street and closer to receiving treatment," Broder Van Dyke wrote in an email to KITV4. "The council only funded $300,000 for planning, (and) no funds for actual property acquisition, so it seems like this solution is some time off."

Catherine "Sugar" Russell, a spokeswoman for the DeOccupy Honolulu movement at Thomas Square Park in Kakaako, believes Chang's proposal is not a long-term solution to Oahu's housing crisis, but said it could be a good start.

"What's going to make this really work is making sure there's a location that is accessible to services, (and) accessible to public transportation (and) really making it fit the lifestyles in which the houseless have to live in order to function day-to-day," said Russell.  

On the mainland, some government sanctioned homeless camps have had difficulty finding a suitable location, as nearby residents speak out against such proposals. However Chang believes Honolulu should choose a model that works, and he believes a homeless camp can be built at a reasonable cost to taxpayers.

"This shouldn't be an expensive project," said Chang. "This is something where we're providing a basic minimum level of hygiene and sanitation services and beyond that, we're going to have to look to partner with other organizations."

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