LIHU‘E — Beginning next month, the county will be suspending its “Shelter in Place” program that had issued permits to houseless individuals and families to live at county-owned beach parks.
On March 4, 2020, Mayor Derek Kawakami signed into effect an emergency rule that established five beach encampments at county campgrounds, including Lucy Wright Park, Salt Pond Beach Park, Anahola Beach Park, ‘Anini Beach Park and Lydgate Park.
That first month, 254 camping permits were issued across the parks, and the number of permits remained fairly steady across the past nine months. In February, that number was 233, and at its peak in July, 275 permits were issued.
“We’ve always said that our Shelter in Place program would be temporary,” Kawakami said. “It was established at the start of our COVID-19 emergency response in spring 2020, when we closed recreational camping to avoid large gatherings and wide community spread of the disease.”
The mayor’s rule also closed all other county campgrounds and canceled previously-issued permits through the end of the year.
The program, Kawakami said, gave stability to the houseless community during an uncertain time.
“It also allowed our existing houseless population a safe place to stay while we navigated through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic,” Kawakami said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the unsheltered, houseless population is at risk for community spread of COVID-19. The CDC recommends overflow shelters, isolation and quarantine campsites and sufficient signage about the virus.
Now, Kawakami is pointing to a steady vaccine effort and “consistently low” case counts as a sign of recovery.
“To date, we have administered over 19,000 vaccines, and our businesses and activities remain operating at Tier 4 — our least restrictive tier,” Kawakami noted.
By the first camp closure date, March 31 for both ‘Anini and Anahola beach parks, the county is hoping to have offered all houseless residents the vaccine through joint efforts by the state Department of Health, Ho‘ola Lahui and Malama Pono Health Services, county Managing Director Michael Dahilig said.
Camping permits at Lucy Wright will end April 30, May 31 at Lydgate, and June 30 at Salt Pond.
“We decided to try and spread out closures geographically in phases, closing campgrounds for one side of the island then moving to the other side of the island: Anahola/‘Anini (north/northeast), then Lucy Wright (west), then Lydgate (east) and finally Salt Pond (west),” said Patrick Porter, director of the county Department of Parks and Recreation.
About a month after each closure, the county will reopen that park to recreational camping for the general public. Permit applications are not being accepted at this time, according to the county.
The month-long closure between houseless living quarters and recreational use will be used for site cleanup, maintenance and facility repairs that are to be determined, Porter said.
“We anticipate major ground-clearing, painting, potential plumbing and fixture replacements,” Porter said.
Those living at the camps have been notified by park rangers verbally and through written notices, Porter said.
“The notifications will be hand-delivered by park rangers as well as included as part of the campers’ monthly permit renewals in the beginning of March, April, May and June,” Porter said.
Porter said his department and the County Housing Agency will be providing assistance throughout the transition period with social-services agencies.
Throughout 2020, the CHA hosted houseless outreach events across the island including the beach parks, providing essential services like flu shots, vision screenings, hygiene products and food, and helping to sign up for housing and bus-pass programs, CHA Director Adam Roversi said.
“Each day of the week, local nonprofits conduct outreach to the beach parks and beyond in various capacities, including Kaua‘i Economic Opportunity, Family Life Center and Ho‘ola Lahui,” Roversi said.
As the closures eek closer, Roversi said the agency’s houseless coordinator is scheduling “concentrated outreach events” at the encampments.
“Specific dates for these outreach efforts will be announced as they are finalized,” Roversi said. “These events will specifically focus on connecting homeless individuals and families with programs related to housing and social services.”
On Wednesday, Feb. 24, the Kaua‘i County Council’s Parks and Recreation/Transportation Committee will be briefed on the status of the camping-permit program.
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.