Governor, homelessness team want legislative funding next session

Gov. Ige said that he and his leadership team on homelessness will be coordinating efforts with the State Legislature at the beginning of next session to make operating funds and emergency appropriations available in order to have the resources to “attack the homeless challenge.”

That was one of the main announcements the governor and his team made at a media briefing Monday at the State Capitol. Other team members who briefly spoke along with the governor at the briefing were State Senator Jill Tokuda, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

Scott Morishige
Scott Morishige

Ige announced that new state homeless coordinator Scott Morishige would be joining the team. Morishige officially starts his job on Aug. 24 and three additional staff positions are being added to the coordinator’s office.

Tokuda mentioned that an amount of $5 million would probably be the team’s initial funding request to the legislature. “We recognize that we do not want barriers to solutions as they come forward,” she said.

With Schatz’s help, Ige has already met U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development officials about federal funding assistance. For that, data needs to be gathered on the homeless population in Kakaako to help determine better utilization of existing vacant spaces to house these people. Ige said the challenge of coming up with an accurate approximation is that the number of people in the encampment changes every day.

The governor and the mayor both said that they have to coordinate enforcement efforts to move the homeless because if the population has nowhere to go, it just becomes temporary displacement, so there is a need to continue to talk to and coordinate with service providers to find available spaces for housing.

One unique challenge to Hawaii, Ige said, is the high cost of developing housing, which makes just as “challenging and complex” to address as the homelessness problem.

“We do know there are place to put them, existing vacancies,” he said, “and we need to find out why they’re not being filled.” The governor emphasized the need for private sector partners to become part of the solution.

In their first meeting the previous week, the governor and his team identified a few sites that could be transformed into an emergency homeless shelter.

While there was no mention of it Monday, one site under consideration is the future Liliha Civic Center, which would be located near the intersection of N. King Street and Iwilei Road, close to other support sources, such as The Institute for Human Services.

“The Liliha Civic Center holds great promise, we believe,” Ige previously said. “It has access to most important items that we need, and we actually found that we actually provide some services in adjacent buildings, which would really allow us to be able to provide access to services directly rather than having to work with providers.”

Plans are currently in the works to develop the center as a state office building.

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