In our voices — Homeless shelter raises residents’ ire

There are two powerful forces that may hinder the development of the Kaua‘i Economic Opportunity’s proposed emergency shelter for the homeless in Lihu‘e.

“Not In My Back Yard” sentiment, and the fact that it is a facility planned to serve the homeless population on the island.

“NIMBY-ism” is a tough hurdle to overcome. It usually involves those who have a direct stake in a project — namely, nearby residents — and impassions people to fight in the name of hearth and home. NIMBY-related lawsuits have scuttled schools, drug rehab facilities, jails and Wal-marts.

Here on Kaua‘i, in recent memory, NIMBY sentiment hasn’t reached the fevered pitch required to propel a project into the courts, but the potential always exists. Such action requires money, and direct activism. Though the residents along Haleko Road, where the proposed project is slated to be built, may lack the money to hire attorneys to fight the county, the potential for activism has already been illustrated. Residents in the area with homes that would abut the shelter have started a petition stating their distaste for the project.

“Put it somewhere else,” the residents feel. “It will drive property values down.” A valid argument, and a tough one to rebut. But if the shelter goes somewhere else, those residents will rise up and the cycle perpetuates itself. Somewhere there has to be sacrifice. And therein lies the fire of what drives a NIMBY to fight a project: “find your sacrifice somewhere else.” But no one knows for sure if property values will be driven down until after contributing factors exist, namely the existence of the shelter. And it will not be the sole determining factor of property values in the area.

The Kaua‘i County Planning Commission yesterday approved permits for the project that is backed by Mayor Bryan Baptiste and Gov. Linda Lingle. The politicians do get all the glory and suffer very little of the sacrifice. Though the project is well on the way, it may very well behoove those politicians to be sensitive to the complaints of the affected residents. Their complaints are valid.

The fact remains though, the shelter is a noble endeavor. The idea stands on its own merits.

The project certainly has the potential to be mired in litigation.

Litigation that has required other similar projects elsewhere to have contingencies built into construction schedules and budgets. Those kinds of delays would cost money, our money, and the homeless will still be out in the cold, in a tropical sense of the word, mind you.

The residents on the other hand should be sensitive to the need being addressed and its concurrent adherence to “aloha” and “‘ohana.” The population being served through the building of the project, in their turn, need to be sensitive to the concerns of the surrounding community. Though many in the community may not understand the difficulties of being homeless, those residents fight their own daily struggles to keep their worlds intact.

A little respect on everyone’s part may go a long way in the coming development of the homeless shelter and its smooth assimilation into the community when and if it becomes a reality.

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