Gov. David Ige announced Monday the formation of a leadership team to address Hawaii’s homeless problem.
The team will be made up of representatives from federal, state and city levels of government, and includes Ige, state Sen. Jill Tokuda, state Rep. Sylvia Luke, Director of Human Services Rachael Wong, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Honolulu City Council Chairman Ernie Martin, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz’s designee and U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono’s designee.
They will meet on weekly basis to discuss ways to take positive action.
“We really believe it will require a focused effort on all fronts, federal, state and county to make significant efforts,” Ige said. “We do believe this council will provide us with a way to look at different options that can make improvements on the homeless situation, and at the same time be able to look at alternatives and then understand what the resources and actions required, then make decisions on whether it would allow us to move forward.”
The governor also mentioned the team’s first priority will be taking care of families.
“There’s definite agreement that families and children should be a priority,” he said. “All of us agree seeing children and families in homeless encampments is very difficult. That is the focus and priority. We are looking to identify shelter and spaces for children and family first.”
He added that officials are aware there are no quick fixes, so “we want to be thoughtful in how we move forward.”
The team will identify and assign parcels of land to be used for the creation of temporary shelters in one or two communities; implement measures to transfer residents of homeless encampments to shelters; work with service providers to establish protocols to assess shelter residents for financial, physical, mental health and other needs; and determine costs and obtain funding to meet these objectives.
Members will consult with law enforcement leaders, non-profit organizations and other interested parties to assist with implementing short-term objectives.
In addition, as a result of the team’s discussions and findings, legislation may be introduced in January 2016 to fulfill unmet or unfunded needs and services.
“The legislature understands the gravity of the situation and the need to pull all executive and governmental agencies to the table in an effort to execute and implement solutions that can be replicated in communities across the state,” said Sen. Tokuda, chair, Senate Ways and Means Committee.
“We really need to come together on enforcement, but also in providing alternative sites and coordinated services. This is a monumental step to pull together resources of the federal, state and county governments,” said Rep. Luke, chair, House Finance Committee.
“This isn’t just another committee. 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,” Ige said.
Ige has been meeting with various officials and landowners to discuss solutions, especially as the homeless population grows exponentially in Kakaako, though officials are quick to point out that areas across Hawaii will be addressed.
Some emergency measures discussed included expanding the capacity and services currently provided by nearby Next Step Shelter. There was also talk of pursuing Hilo Hattie’s location on Nimitz Highway as another shelter option.
The governor previously said he was open to relocating homeless populations, as long as there was a place for them to go.