Homeless shelter edges forward

LIHU’E – A proposal put forth by leaders of Kauai Economic Opportunity, Inc. and supported by Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste and those in his administration, to build the island’s first emergency shelter in Lihu’e for the homeless population, has been given the green light by members of the Kaua’i County Planning Commission.

Tuesday morning’s action by commission members, who met at the Lihu’e Civic Center Mo’ikeha Building first-floor conference room, also allows for construction of a transitional shelter for homeless folks who have gone through county programs to help them become more self-sufficient, according to Kaua’i architect Ron Agor, who is designing the project.

The project is small, but KEO leaders hope to begin offering services to some of the 600 homeless folks who live on the island.

Many homeless “stack up” in homes of relatives, or live at county and state beach parks. Plans call for the project to be completed by fall.

Proponents of the KEO project hope the facility will spur leaders of other organizations or businesses to build similar facilities to help Kaua’i’s homeless. Baptiste has made the development of the project one of the top goals of those in his administration.

“It is a big step, and we are hoping other people step up and provide more homeless shelters, because of the high cost of housing. That is the reason why more people are homeless now,” Agor said after the commission approval of permits necessary for both the homeless and transitional shelters.

The concept of helping the homeless in this way has provoked support in general, but 11 residents voiced opposition to it in a petition sent to commission members, citing concerns about vandalism and “the like,” Agor said. None of the residents opposing the project attended Tuesday’s meeting.

Agor said he can’t blame opponents for not wanting the project in their back yard, even though the project will begin to alleviate a significant social problem on Kaua’i.

“We are trying to instill in the community that the homeless are like us,” Agor said. “We were able to buy a home in the community, and it is a privilege. We should give back by contributing to the less fortunate,” he said.

“And if that m eans having it close to us, then that is your contribution.”

The project will be developed on about two acres located next to KEO’s headquarters off Haleko Road in Lihu’e. At the request of Baptiste, Gov. Linda Lingle handed over the use of the site to county leaders through an executive order and a lease agreement.

Under the plans, a former Lihu’e public-school building will be renovated to house six units that will accommodate up to 19 beds for homeless adults and children, Agor said. The living quarters for children and adults will be separated, he said.

Related to the proposal as well, four portable buildings now behind the Kaua’i War Memorial Convention Hall off Hardy Street in Lihu’e that once housed the Kaua’i County Office of the Prosecuting Attorney and County Housing Agency will be relocated to the homeless site, and will be refitted to accommodate a maximum of 20 persons.

“There will be two, one-bedroom duplexes built into the buildings, for a total of eight units,” Agor said.

Commissioner Larry Chaffin suggested overcrowding may occur at the facility, and asked who would enforce occupancy limits.

KEO leaders will, Agor offered, and currently have in place a system that will control occupancy concerns. As for the success or lack of success of the program, KEO leaders will send progress reports to commission members over a three-year period, Agor said.

KEO Executive Director MaBel Fujiuchi said those in her organization already operate a transitional housing program that encourages homeless folks to become self-sufficient, and to possibly move into their own homes one day.

Fujiuchi noted KEO officials manage nine residential units at Lihue Court Townhomes, located mauka of Rice Street, for that target population, and that the new project will augment the existing service.

Agor said the need for the emergency shelter and the new transitional housing project is dire, and that the project is the result of the combined efforts of Baptiste, county workers and supporters.

“It (developing the project) has been a collective effort to get to this point,” Agor said. “And we are happy that the mayor brought up the problem. And we are glad KEO has taken up the task to see the facility become a reality.”

Agor volunteered his services in securing the use permits from commissioners and those in the county Planning Department, and will also help secure the building permits for the project through a contract with KEO.

The construction of the project is estimated to cost $2.3 million.

For the project, county officials have received separate allocations of $325,000 and $339,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds from U.S. Housing and Urban Development, for fiscal years 2005 and 2006.

Another $500,000 in HUD funds also have been committed for construction and rehabilitation work, Fujiuchi has said.

In addition, another $250,000 in federal funds from U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye’s Economic Development Initiative Grant program also are to be used for the project, county officials have said.

Agor said funding separate from the construction funds will be sought to operate the facility.

The issue of parking came up during the commission meeting Tuesday. Agor and Fujiuchi said 18 parking stalls will be created, along with four “overflow” stalls for clients and employees.

County Planning Director Ian Costa, addressing Fujiuchi and Agor, asked how many cars would be allowed for each family with members at the shelter.

Fujiuchi said the answer depends on the size of the family that is to be helped, and noted as well that, because some of the homeless folks may not have vehicles to use, KEO leaders can control parking needs by capping the maximum number of parking stalls at 18.

Costa said such projects could generate public concerns about abandoned vehicles or folks repairing their cars in parking lots by residential projects, although such scenarios can happen in any neighborhood.

Fujiuchi said commission members should be aware that many vehicles are already parked in the area now, even before the start of the KEO project.

During the past 10 years KEO’s headquarters has been in operation, organization leaders have had to call the Kaua’i Police Department about abandoned and unattended vehicles parked in areas across from the headquarters.

Fujiuchi noted that “there is a lot of parking in the streets, and it’s not KEO’s (vehicles).”


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