LIHUE — A homeless encampment that at one point housed about 20 people was shut down by the county early this month.
The encampment, dubbed “The Cage” by its residents, was situated at the Lihue Civic Center and was part of Kauai County’s shelter initiative under the authority of Gov. David Ige’s emergency homeless proclamation, according to county officials.
“It was always intended to be a temporary shelter,” said Paula Morikami, administrative assistant to the mayor. “Once KEO opened in the daytime to provide services including assessments, use of restroom and shower facilities, the county planned to close up the area.”
Those services started on Aug. 1, she said. The county also provided KEO with funding for 20 additional beds to expand the number of overnight stays for a total of about 40 beds at the Lihue facility.
Residents of the shelter were given 45 days notice to vacate the area. A notice, signed by Ken Shimonishi, Kauai County director of finance, stated that people must vacate the premises with their belongings from the Lihue Civic Center including the former Big Save Market entrance, sidewalk and loading dock area.
The notice also included a list of service providers that those people could contact for assistance.
Napuanani McKeague, founder of the Voices of Kauai network, a program dedicated to assisting individuals in transition, said the people relocated to other areas in the Lihue vicinity, but she could not disclose which specific locations without their consent.
“I don’t think (the area) was adequate because they opened up the door and said ‘Come one, come all,’” McKeague said. “There were no guidelines from the beginning.”
Some guidelines Voices of Kauai recommended to the county were limiting the number of individuals residing at the area, monitoring what items were allowed in, and allocating a set area size for each person, McKeague said.
“I was very disappointed with this whole cage issue,” McKeague said, as there were problems that could have been avoided.
County officials said they did hire private security guards after receiving complaints of violence, drug use, and urinating and defecating on property and cars of employees.
The county acknowledged a lack of guidelines and rules at the encampment. Officials, however, did expect encampment residents to adhere to the laws, Morikami said.
“We knew that the space would not be able to accommodate all of the homeless in Lihue,” Morikami said. “If it was for the long term, we would have established rules as other places do.”
Multiple attempts to contact former residents of the temporary shelter were unsuccessful.
“We’re not bad people,” said Tabitha Smith, a former resident of “The Cage,” in a previous interview with The Garden Island. “We just can’t afford rent.”
At the time of the eviction, officials said there were five individuals residing on the premises.
“A few started moving out prior to Sept. 2. Everyone was given 45 days’ notice that the fenced area and the old Big Save area would be cleared and closed,” Morikami said.
Officials said the last remaining people left peacefully.
“We don’t know where the homeless went after they moved out of the caged area,” Morikami said.
The county said it has no definite plans for the vacated areas.
“The Cage” was initially open to homeless individuals around mid-February this year after seven individuals were squatting by the entrance of the old Lihue Big Save.
In June, Ige signed a supplemental proclamation on homelessness that provided an additional 60 days in which to continue the state’s cross-sector collaboration and coordinated efforts with the counties.
According to the 2016 Point in Time count, 442 homeless people were counted on Kauai in January, which is up from 339 of January 2015. In the state, there was a 4 percent increase: 7,620 in 2015 to 7,921 in 2016.
On Kauai, 41 percent of unsheltered people were counted on southcentral Kauai, around the Lihue area, according to the PIT report. That’s 145 people. The total number of unsheltered homeless in 2016 is 351 compared to 251 in 2015.
This is the fifth consecutive year the state saw an increase in homeless individuals.