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  • City Won’t Acquire Hilo Hattie Property for Homeless Shelter

    · By Rui Kaneya

    The city will not purchase the Hilo Hattie property on Nimitz Highway that had been considered for a “one-stop homeless shelter” for up to 800 people.

    Roy Amemiya, the city’s managing director, announced Tuesday that the city did not submit a bid on the property by Monday’s deadline, saying the cost would have been “prohibitive.”

    Honolulu Managing Director Roy Amemiya announces that the city won’t bid on the Hilo Hattie property on Nimitz Highway.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    To acquire “the leasehold interest” in the 85,000-square-foot property, which is under bankruptcy proceedings, the city would have had to pay about $7.6 million initially and then absorb $1.8 million in annual costs, Amemiya said. The figure doesn’t include the cost of providing on-site services, which would have been more than $20,000 per individual annually.

    The proposal to turn the property into a temporary homeless shelter was made in May by two City Council members, Ernie Martin and Joey Manahan.

    Amemiya said the property was ultimately too big to fit into the city’s “scattered site” philosophy. “Already in Kakaako, we have 300 individuals, and we’re starting to see problems with the law, in terms of thefts, assaults, criminal activity. So, to put 800 persons in a building — which is two and a half times the 300 that are at Kakaako — we thought was the wrong approach.”

    Meanwhile, work on the new homeless transitional facility on Sand Island is underway, with the Department of Facility Maintenance almost finished with grading the site.

    Sandy Pfund, who

  • Ige Creates a New Leadership Team to Tackle Homelessness

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Gov. David Ige announced Monday that he was launching an “unprecedented” effort to address the state’s growing homeless problem.

    “The governor’s leadership team on homelessness” is made up of representatives from all government levels — federal, state and city — including the governor; state Sen. Jill Tokuda; state Rep. Sylvia Luke; Rachael Wong, director of the Hawaii Department of Human Services; Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell; Ernie Martin, chair of the City Council; and staffers from the offices of U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz.

    “This isn’t just another committee,” Ige said. “This team is making a commitment to work together to find solutions now. There is something important going on. We are the people responsible for the public’s welfare. This team is meeting face to face to address homelessness, and we are going to hold each other accountable.”

    One conspicuous absentee was Colin Kippen, who announced Monday morning that he’s been told his tenure as the governor’s coordinator on homelessness will expire Friday.

    Gov. David Ige looks at Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell while announcing the formation of “the governor’s leadership team on homelessness” Monday.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Ige said his team will convene on a weekly basis, but no action plan emerged from Monday’s inaugural meeting. There’s no specific timeline for dealing with homeless encampments in Kakaako and elsewhere, he added.

    “There’s no quick fixes on homelessness. No easy answers. We want to be thoughtful in how we move forward,” Ige told reporters.

    “The reality of this position is that (it

  • Tom Brower to Press Charges Against Homeless Teens in Kakaako

    · By Rui Kaneya

    State Rep. Tom Brower announced Thursday that he’s pressing charges against the homeless teens who allegedly attacked him last month in Kakaako.

    Brower, known for once taking a sledgehammer to 30 shopping carts used by homeless people, made his announcement at the corner of Ohe and Olomehani streets — the site where he got into an altercation June 29 and was taken to an emergency room with a head injury, bruised ribs and a laceration above his right eye.

    “We have seen an escalation in the number of assaults in the area, and those who commit these acts need to be held accountable for their actions,” Brower told the reporters.

    State Rep. Tom Brower returns to the site of his attack to announce that he’s pressing charges.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Since the altercation, Brower has been maintaining that he was attacked without provocation. But two boys, ages 14 and 17, told Civil Beat last month that the altercation started because Brower refused to stop taking pictures of their encampment without permission.

    “We asked him nicely to please stop taking pictures. He told us, ‘Just back off,’” said Isaiah Totoa, 17.

    Brower said the photos and videos in his camera would have validated his account of the event, but the boys said they deleted those files when he left the camera at the scene of the altercation.

    “I have no anger toward anyone involved; however this is not just about me,” Brower said. “This is about the health and safety of the public.

  • Endless Sweep: City Keeps Rousting Homeless at a Cost of $750,000 a Year

    · By Rui Kaneya

    At first glance, David Ippen has picked an ideal spot for his business.

    Ippen’s martial-arts school, Taekwondo Honolulu, occupies the site of a former auto-repair shop on a quiet stretch of Isenberg Street — right across from Old Stadium Park at the heart of the McCully-Moiliili neighborhood.

    But the proximity to the park has a drawback: Over the years, Ippen has had his share of troubles with homeless people who have taken up residence there.

    David Ippen, whose Taekwondo Honolulu is across from Old Stadium Park, has run into troubles with homeless people in the area over the years.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    A year and a half ago, for instance, Ippen’s water bill shot up to $400 — more than quadruple the usual amount. It didn’t take him long to figure out what caused it: The water faucet outside his school was being used by homeless people as a makeshift shower at night.

    Once Ippen installed a locking cap on the faucet, the water bill went down, but other troubles persist, he says. Some days, fights break out in the park. Other days, he has to clean up after defecation on the side of the building.

    “I feel for these people; their situation is really sad — but, when they start breaking things and get really loud, saying horrible things to each other, that’s really bad for kids here,” said Ippen, who has about 150 students — 100 of whom are children. “It’s difficult for us, especially because we have so

  • VA Secretary to Landlords: Pitch in to Help End Veteran Homelessness

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Hawaii still has a long way to go in curbing homelessness among veterans.

    While places like New Orleans have practically eliminated veteran homelessness as part of a five-year national goal set by President Barack Obama in 2010, Hawaii has yet to gain a firm foothold in finding homes for hundreds of veterans.

    At the end of June, there were 376 homeless veterans on Oahu, including 129 who were unsheltered, according to Scott Morishige, executive director of the homeless advocacy group PHOCUSED, which helps analyze the state’s Homeless Management Information System database.

    This is why Robert McDonald, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, is in Honolulu this week, lending his hands in Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s “Heroes Helping Heroes.”

    Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald urged local landlords and property managers to support the effort to house homeless veterans.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    McDonald told about 70 area landlords and property managers gathered Thursday at Mission Memorial Auditorium that the state needs their help in doing its part to meet the national goal of housing all homeless veterans.

    “Eliminating homelessness in this country is a team sport,” McDonald said. “It can’t be done by the city alone. It can’t be done by the state alone. It can’t be done by the federal government alone. It can’t be done by the private sector alone. It’s got to be done by all of us working together.”

    It’s not that Hawaii hasn’t made some progress. According to PHOCUSED, 368 homeless veterans on Oahu were placed

  • HCDA Hears Tenant Concerns About the Homeless in Kakaako

    · By Rui Kaneya

    For the first time in its history, the Hawaii Community Development Authority waded into the issue of homelessness Wednesday as it held an open discussion on the burgeoning encampment in Kakaako.

    John Whalen, board chairman of HCDA, which oversees the development in Kakaako, said the meeting — while meant only to be “information discussion” — was a first step in getting his agency to take a more active role in addressing the issue.

    The homeless encampment near the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center in Kakaako has grown dramatically in recent months.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    The meeting came less than 10 days after state Rep. Tom Brower, known for once taking a sledgehammer to 30 shopping carts used by the homeless, got into an altercation with a handful of teens from the encampment.

    A large portion of the meeting was devoted to hearing what the area’s three main enterprises — the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center, the University of Hawaii medical school, and 53 By The Sea, a restaurant next to Waterfront Park — have been going through.

    “Kakaako is neither equipped nor appropriate to serve as an unauthorized encampment for hundreds of homeless and should not be used for that purpose.” —  Virginia Hinshaw, UH chancellor emeritus.

    According to the Hawaii Department of Health, the number of tents set up by homeless people around them has gone up dramatically — from 62 in September to 185 in June — since the city began enforcing a series of ordinances prohibiting people from sitting or

  • Will the Hammer Fall on Homeless Encampment in Kakaako?

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Under a scorching sun, Pedro “Pete” Fonseca III was making the rounds.

    It was early Friday afternoon, and the thermometer was ticking past 90 degrees, but Fonseca showed no sign of discomfort as he strolled Ohe Street — the epicenter of Kakaako’s burgeoning homeless encampment, where he’s known as its unofficial “mayor.”

    Clad in a neon-yellow sleeveless shirt covered in paint splatters, Fonseca was using the lunch break from his construction job to check in on his fellow residents — part of his effort to help bring a semblance of law and order to the encampment.

    “Out here, we look out for each other,” Fonseca said.

    The homeless encampment near the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center in Kakaako has grown dramatically in recent months.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    But this self-policing system couldn’t prevent the June 29 incident — when state Rep. Tom Brower, known for once taking a sledgehammer to 30 shopping carts used by the homeless, ended up in an emergency room after getting into an altercation with a handful of teens from the encampment.

    The incident has since brought intense public scrutiny to the encampment — which has nearly tripled in size since late last year — and prompted the Honolulu Star-Advertiser to call for its demolition.

    Fonseca was fatalistic about the possibility of a crackdown.

    “To address these remaining dug-in encampments, we really need more housing.” — Jesse Broder Van Dyke, spokesman for Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell

    “It’s expected to happen. The only thing we’re waiting for is finding out when. Nobody

  • Why Did Tom Brower’s Visit to Homeless Encampment End in Violence?

    · By Rui Kaneya

    State Rep. Tom Brower and two boys who got into an altercation with him at a Kakaako homeless encampment Monday evening told conflicting stories Tuesday about how the legislator ended up in a hospital.

    Brower, who in the past has taken a sledgehammer to shopping carts abandoned by the homeless, said he was attacked without provocation. At a press conference, he told reporters he was walking around to investigate “constituent concerns” regarding public safety and health issues at the encampment.

    Brower said “a guy on a skateboard” approached and punched him “several times in the chest.” Soon, a second person, whom Brower said he didn’t see, joined in the fracas, knocking him down and punching him “a few times.”

    State Rep. Tom Brower says he was attacked without provocation.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Two homeless boys, ages 14 and 17, told Civil Beat on Tuesday morning that the altercation started because Brower was taking pictures of their encampment without permission and refused to stop.

    “We asked him nicely to please stop taking pictures. He told us, ‘Just back off,’” said Isaiah Totoa, 17.

    Totoa added that Brower never identified himself.

    “He said nothing about who he was at all. Never mentioned it once,” Totoa said. “He just kept telling us, ‘I’m here to help you guys.’ … Now I feel bad because I now know who he is. He’s trying to help. But, like I said, we’ve had people come here saying the same shit.”

    Tracy Martin, who lives in a tent nearby but didn’t witness

  • ‘One-of-a-Kind': Woman Runs Her Own Homeless Shelter

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Any minute now, John Bean’s medicine should start kicking in. But, as he sits in the back seat of an aging Subaru Forester, it’s apparent that it hasn’t yet: Bean’s still hallucinating and talking incessantly.

    Behind the wheel, Carolina Jesus isn’t worried; she’s seen all this before.

    In fact, as schizophrenic episodes go, Bean’s symptoms are mild, she explains: “He’s having some psychotic features. A little hallucinating. Seeing some things that aren’t there. But he’s coherent. Calm. Reasonable.”

    So Jesus just makes sure her car’s child safety locks are engaged — in case Bean gets a sudden urge to jump out — and calmly drives on.

    Just another day at the office for perhaps Honolulu’s most unusual effort to help the homeless.

    Felix Ursua plays the guitar for Carolina Jesus at their residence in Kalihi.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Since 2006, Jesus has been running a small, faith-based nonprofit called Shelter of Wisdom, and taking care of otherwise-homeless people like Bean — some suffering from even more severe forms of mental illness or drug addiction — is a routine part of her job.

    Jesus, a slender 56-year-old with wavy dark-brown hair flowing down her back, started out by taking people into her own home. That was back in 2003, and she owned only one property at the time — a three-unit house in Kailua.

    But, with her nonprofit in place, Jesus has steadily expanded the scope of her work and now operates out of six houses — two that she owns, along with four

  • Homeless Czar Gets One-Month Contract Extension

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Colin Kippen will have to show up to work Wednesday, after all.

    Kippen’s tenure as the governor’s coordinator on homelessness was supposed to expire at the end of June, but Gov. David Ige told reporters at Monday’s press conference that he extended Kippen’s contract for another month.

    This is the third time that Ige decided to keep Kippen around on an interim basis.

    In November, Ige first approached Kippen and asked him to stay in his post through the end of last year — only to change his mind late December and extend the offer for another six months.

    Gov. David Ige announced Colin Kippen’s contract extension at Monday’s press conference.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Whether Kippen, an appointee of former Gov. Neil Abercrombie, will get a fourth extension when his new contract wraps up at the end of July remains unclear.

    Ige said he’s now in the process of evaluating Kippen’s performance, as well as the state of Hawaii’s overall homelessness response system.

    To make a steady progress on the issue, the governor said it’s important that the state makes specific goals. “There are lots of details to be worked through,” he said. “Homelessness is a complex and tough issue.”

    But Hawaii has long been part of the nationwide effort — under a goal set by President Barack Obama in 2010 — to end veteran homelessness by the end of this year and chronic homelessness by 2017.

  • Hawaii’s Homeless Population Continues to Surge

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Hawaii’s homelessness crisis shows no sign of abating.

    According to the latest “point in time” count released Thursday by the state Department of Human Services, Hawaii’s homeless population stood at 7,620 when the annual survey was conducted in late January.

    That’s an increase by 702 individuals — a jump of more than 10 percent — compared to the previous year, when the officials counted 6,918 people living on the streets or in shelters.

    The biggest increase came from Hawaii county, which saw its homeless population climb from 869 to 1,241 — a whopping increase of nearly 43 percent.

    On Oahu, whose count was released in April, the number of homeless people jumped by nearly 35 percent. In Maui county, it went up by 18.5 percent.

    Kauai county, meanwhile, saw the number of homeless people decrease from 378 to 339.

    Tents line the sidewalks at Ohe Street near Waterfront Park in Kakaako.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    The relentless rise in homelessness comes at the time when state and local officials are putting an increasing effort — and resources — into tackling the problem. The Legislature and the Honolulu City Council have appropriated a total of more than $4 million this year for the Housing First program, which is aimed at identifying the chronically homeless and getting them quickly into permanent, supportive housing.

    But that’s exactly the population that saw a sharp increase. The number of chronically homeless people rose by nearly 24 percent — from 1,109 to 1,372. Those suffering from chronic substance abuse saw

  • Homeless Czar Has Been in Limbo for 6 Months, But the End May Be Near

    · By Rui Kaneya

    For all he knows, Colin Kippen will be out of his job in two weeks.

    Since June 2012, Kippen has been serving as the governor’s coordinator on homelessness, a job overseeing Hawaii’s homelessness response system.

    An appointee of former Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Kippen has remained in his post under the new administration — but only on an interim basis. Gov. David Ige first approached Kippen in November, asking him to stay on through the end of last year. In late December, Ige extended the offer for another six months.

    Kippen hasn’t heard whether he should bother showing up for work July 1.

    Former Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed Colin Kippen to serve as the governor’s coordinator on homelessness in June 2012.

    Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

    Ige, who is in Japan this week, was not available for comment. “Both the governor and chief of staff are traveling in Japan, and they have not been able to respond,” Cindy McMillan, the governor’s communications director, wrote to Civil Beat in an email.

    “I have no idea where we’re at at this point,” said Kippen, who previously served as the executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Indian Education Association and also led the Native Hawaiian Education Council. “I’m just taking it one day at a time.”

    Building a Database of the Homeless

    By any measure, Kippen’s job is a daunting one: He’s been tasked to tackle homelessness — one of Hawaii’s seemingly intractable issues — without so much as an operating budget.

    Housed under the Hawaii Department of Human

  • Revised Sand Island Plan for Homeless Borrows From a Mainland Model

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Earlier this month, when Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell unveiled his long-anticipated plan to use a plot of vacant land on Sand Island to house the homeless, he did it with a little twist.

    Instead of opening a tent-based homeless encampment, as he originally envisioned, Caldwell announced that the city would build a “modular” facility using up to 25 “modified shipping containers” to temporarily house 75 to 100 people.

    The new plan was inspired by an effort underway in Eugene, Oregon, where a group of activists from the Occupy movement helped build a collection of tiny homes — each about 8 by 8 feet — to form a micro-community for the city’s homeless population two years ago.

    The community, known as Opportunity Village Eugene, has been hailed as a success, and its innovative approach in tackling homelessness has been highlighted by the likes of The Guardian newspaper and The Atlantic magazine.

    Caldwell is betting that his plan will lead to a similar success.

    Mayor Kirk Caldwell unveils his plan to build a “modular” facility for Honolulu’s growing homeless population on vacant land on Sand Island.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Caldwell says the Sand Island facility — dubbed “Hale Mauliola” after the Hawaiian goddess of health — will be a place of refuge for those who are displaced by the city’s “sit-lie” ban — a series of ordinances passed by the Honolulu City Council that prohibits people from sitting or lying on the city’s busiest sidewalks.

    At a press conference he held on Sand Island,

  • UH Study: City’s Recent Moves Aren’t Curbing Homelessness

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Honolulu’s “sit-lie” ban and other ordinances underpinning Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s “compassionate disruption” program are doing little to curb homelessness in the city, according to a University of Hawaii study being released Monday.

    Instead, the study found, an array of ordinances aimed at clearing the city’s sidewalks has further complicated the lives of many homeless people by causing “economic and property loss,” as well as “physical and psychological harm.”

    The study was co-authored by Tai Dunson-Strane and Sarah Soakai, two graduate students in the university’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning.

    Homeless residents’ tents line the muddy bank of Kapalama Canal between King Street and Killingham Boulevard.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Their findings, based on a survey conducted in February and March with 70 homeless individuals at encampments in Aala Park, Kakaako and along Kapalama Canal, show that Caldwell’s program has not had its intended effect of prodding the homeless to emergency shelters where they can receive needed services.

    A third of the survey respondents said they were less likely to move to a shelter after being cited for violating the city’s sit-lie ordinance, which bans people from sitting or lying on public sidewalks in designated business districts.

    Another 61 percent said the sit-lie citations had no effect on the likelihood that they go to a shelter.

    The findings come less than two weeks after the Honolulu City Council overrode Caldwell’s veto of Bill 6, a measure that expands the sit-lie ban’s boundary to include portions of McCully, Aala and Punchbowl, as well as

  • Honolulu City Council Overrides Caldwell, Expands Sit-Lie

    · By Nick Grube

    The Honolulu City Council voted 6-3 Wednesday to override Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s veto of a controversial measure that works to shoo the homeless off sidewalks and away from businesses.

    Bill 6 will expand the city’s “sit-lie” ban beyond the business districts of Waikiki, Chinatown, Kaneohe and Kailua to include areas around McCully, Aala and Punchbowl, as well as along the Kapalama Canal where dozens of homeless people have set up tents.

    Caldwell warned the council that an expansion of the city law banning sitting and lying on sidewalks and in pedestrian malls could lead to legal challenges and even result in the entire ordinance being overturned. City attorneys refused to sign off on the bill when it was originally proposed, calling it “illegal.”

    Tents line the sidewalks at Ohe Street near Waterfront Park in Kakaako.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    But several council members disagreed with that assessment, saying that the courts should be allowed to decide just how far the city can go when it comes to keeping public spaces clear of homeless people.

    “Mayor Caldwell seems to think that if the law gets challenged the sky is going to fall on Honolulu and all of our sit-lie ordinances. I disagree,” Councilman Joey Manahan said. “I recognize that the law may be challenged, but the sky is not going to fall.”

    RelatedCan Honolulu’s Sit-Lie Ban Pass Constitutional Muster?May 20How Can ‘Housing First’ Work When the Housing Isn’t There?May 12

    Manahan said a legal challenge could help clarify city ordinances to ensure that there