LIHU‘E — The Kauai “Shelter in Place” program was the first in the state when it started six months ago to help provide a place for houseless individuals during COVID-19.
And though permits for houseless camping in county parks are set to expire next month, officials say they will still be doing outreach.
Developed by the County Housing Agency, the program put the county Department of Parks and Recreation in charge of campsites in several county parks where houseless individuals could secure permits to camp.
It’s just one of the many programs overseen by CHA Director Adam Roversi, with staffmembers dedicated specifically to address the issue of homelessness.
That position was created less than three years ago, so a program dedicated to homeless outreach has been a “relatively recent endeavor” on the county level.
“Traditionally, homelessness issues (have) been something that has been in the state’s kuleana,” Roversi said.
”I’ve been the housing director for about a year and a half. And only a short time before I was appointed as director did the housing agency have someone who was designated as a homeless coordinator.”
When the COVID-19 emergency came to Kaua‘i, the county used their new staff member to coordinate with nonprofits who work with houseless individuals and provide safe camping zones as well as resources.
“No other counties did that. They closed all of their parks to everyone,” Roversi said. “So I applaud the parks department for providing that opportunity that isn’t available anywhere else.”
While the program provides that safe space for some, it’s triggered tension in other parts of the Kaua‘i community, with complaints from the general public starting to stream into the Mayor’s Office, asking for the parks to be returned to regular use.
“There’s a tension with other portions of our population that want to go camping weekend at the park, for example, and don’t feel that they can safely do that,” Roversi said.
“There’s a building pressure from the general public and complaints to somehow address the large number of people that are currently living in these apartments to revert to some sort of normalcy.”
Staff from the Department of Parks and Recreation handle most of the day-to-day interactions with the people using the “Shelter in Place” camping zones.
According to Wallace Rezentes Jr., deputy director of parks and recreation, individuals who don’t comply with park rules are issued a warning, citation, and if behavior doesn’t change, ultimately have their permit taken away. The length of time dedicated to that process varies with each instance.
“It depends on the severity of the permit infraction, the number of warnings and citations issued,” Rezentes said.
As they prepare for the expiration of permits in the “Shelter in Place” program, Rezentes Jr. said, the department is working with other agencies to “provide resources and alternative accommodations for members of our houseless community.”
Stephanie Shinno, education, business, and community reporter can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.