Hawaii lawmakers push for ‘ohana zones’ to help homeless
HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii lawmakers are pushing to create government-sanctioned tent cities, or “ohana zones,” to help address the state’s homeless issue.
Legislators want to open ohana zones for homeless families with school-age children, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported .
Lawmakers in both the state House and Senate have not agreed on the details of what Hawaii’s next ohana zone should look like, how big it should be or where it should be located. But state Rep. John Mizuno, chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, hopes to open the next ohana zone by the end of the year.
“We understand the gravity of it,” Mizuno said. “Once the state gets involved, we’re going to be liable for everything that happens. We cannot fail.”
There is little support for including chronically homeless people with substance abuse or mental health issues or tendencies toward violence — one of the most visible segments of Hawaii’s homeless population that regularly generate complaints from businesses, residents and tourists.
“Chronically homeless individuals with mental health needs require more intensive help,” said Sen. Josh Green, a Hawaii island emergency room physician who is chairman of the Senate Human Services Committee. “And when it comes to security, you can’t allow people to be violent in these kinds of places. That’s the only hard line I have. People who are violent have to move on.”
The House wants to pour $30 million in capital improvement money to build infrastructure for ohana zones.
Existing homeless programs still could be funded through stand-alone bills, House Speaker Scott Saiki said. The Senate wants to fund $15.9 million to continue existing homeless programs, including Housing First, and has budgeted a modest $650,000 for an ohana zone pilot project for Hawaii County.
State Sen. Will Espero, an ohana zone proponent and chairman of the Senate’s Housing Committee, said he does not want to replicate Hawaii’s most recent ohana zone, Camp Kikaha in Kailua-Kona, which closed last month after an eight-month experiment.
If the Senate and House can reach an agreement, Mizuno hopes legislative leaders will then work with Gov. David Ige to find an appropriate site for Hawaii’s next ohana zone and have it up and running by the end of the year.
“It’s not the perfect solution to have ohana zones,” Mizuno said. “But if we are to open the first ohana zone by September, October or November, we need to make sure they do not fail.”
Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, http://www.staradvertiser.com