Seeking a solution

Kauai’s homeless shelter gets funding boost

By Lester Chang – THE GARDEN ISLAND

Efforts to push forward the building of Kaua‘i’s first shelter and transitional housing for the homeless got a recent boost with Gov. Linda Lingle releasing more than $40 million to help homeless people across Hawai‘i and help others move into affordable housing.

In signing three bills this week releasing the funds, Lingle set aside $400,000 in grant funds for each of the neighbor island counties, including Kaua‘i.

Another $690,000 in grant funds will go to the Kaua‘i Economic Opportunity for the development of a homeless emergency shelter and a wastewater system. KEO will operate the new center.

About $225,000 of the more than $40 million to be distributed will be used to help people get into affordable housing on Kaua‘i, O‘ahu and Hawai‘i, according to a news release.

The $225,000 will support efforts by the Hawai‘i HomeOwnership Center to provide homebuyers education and counseling to residents in those three counties, the news release said.

When the new homeless and transitional housing shelter project opens on Kaua‘i, it can begin to help the homeless who live at county and state beaches and the “houseless” who stash their personal belongings at the homes of families and friends but live elsewhere.

The new Lihu‘e-based facility could help the homeless people who live closest to it.

They include those who sit at picnic tables in the county park fronting the historic County Building.

Kaua‘i attorney Mark Zenger said he recently had to call the Kaua‘i Police Department after seeing a homeless person urinate on a public roadway and make obscene gestures at passing motorists.

“This is the third time that I have called KPD as a result of the activities of what I refer to as the ‘picnic table bums,’” Zenger wrote in a letter received by The Garden Island.

In February 2005, Zenger said he saw a homeless person killed by a car on Umi Street.

County officials have said the need for housing among the homeless is great, and although they would like to help as many as possible, only a few will be able to access the services at the new facility at this point.

Lingle, who has made helping the homeless and building affordable housing a top priority of her administration, said the more than $40 million that is to be released statewide represents a 400 percent increase in funding for homeless programs and services.

She believes the funds will encourage more private and non-profit housing developers to build more affordable housing.

At a groundbreaking ceremony for the new transitional homeless shelter in Lihu‘e in March, Mayor Bryan Baptiste cited “partnerships” among government, business and concerned residents as the driving force behind the opening of the island’s first large-scale, government-sponsored homeless shelter and transition center.

The project is to be developed with a little more than $2 million in federal, state and county funds.

The project will unfold on a 2-acre site located next to the headquarters of Kauai Economic Opportunity off Haleko Road in Lihu‘e.

Work has gotten underway and is anticipated to be completed by the end of this year.

After consultation with Baptiste, Lingle decided to hand over the parcel to the county through an executive order.

Baptiste threw his support behind the project after he saw first-hand the challenges faced by homeless persons, including a former classmate.

The project is to be developed in two phases. In the first phase, the former Lihue public school building and another building will be repositioned at the project site.

Four portable buildings that once housed county departments also will be placed on the property and used, county officials have said.

The second phase involves the renovation of all the buildings. The county Planning Commission this year issued all the required permits for the project.

When completed, the facility will accommodate 39 people, with more possibly in the future, officials said at the groundbreaking ceremony.

County leaders have identified as many as 600 homeless people on the island, but say the facility, though small, will begin taking some of those people in.

• Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and lchang@ kauaipubco.com.

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