Friday, September 12, 2014


Board of Land and Natural Resources approves city’s Sand Island homeless camp subject to list of conditions

by Larry Geller

After hearing testimony overwhelmingly opposed to the city’s plan to create a homeless camp in land in isolated Sand Island, the Board of Land and Natural Resources voted to approve the application subject to conditions.

There was some positive testimony, but those who opposed noted that the city had not had the area tested for the long list of chemicals, pesticides, heavy metals and other contaminants discovered in Department of Health reports for the immediate area. Others noted cultural issues, others raised security issues.

The board members did listen and asked relevant questions. In the end, they approved, but with the following conditions:

1) Approval of the Department of Health of suitability for intended use

2) If the city should ask for a longer term than three years, the environmental exemption will no longer apply

3) The City and County are responsible for adequate security

4) The City and County are responsible to follow through with the representations they have made about getting more public input prior to occupancy

5) A quarterly review shall be submitted to the Chair on the progress of the project

6) Subject to the decision on the contested case hearing

In my testimony I pointed out that the application for the lease and immediate right of entry was misrepresented to the Board by the city. The purpose, as given in the application, is:

Temporary Mobile Access to Services and Housing (TMASH). A temporary triage for services and housing to determine the needs of homeless individuals / families based on their circumstances. The City's on-site contract service providers will assess and evaluate the vulnerability of homeless individuals / families to prepare for Housing First placement, while providing them with temporary shelter.

A board member asked about the meaning of the word “triage.” I and others described our understanding that it had military origins, where the wounded were assessed and prioritized for treatment (or for no treatment, alas).

I pointed out that triage could be done in any room in the city. The hearing room, for example. People could come in the side door (leaving dogs and cats outside), over here would be the social workers, over here the RNs, then the housing specialists, and finally the case managers (just as an example). Then they can go out the back door with their housing voucher or other papers.

There’s no need for the Sand Island lot for triage. What the city described with its slide show today was a tent city to be occupied by the houseless. They want to be able to say, in order to get the various punitive ordinances passed into law, that there is someplace to relocate the houseless living in Waikiki.


There has already been extensive evaluation of a large number of the homeless by social agencies. The notion this "triage" needs to be done on Sand Island rather than out on the street and in the parks is a pretense, a justification to use "Housing First" funds to pay for this temporary housing facility, the real goal of which is to allow the forcible removal of the unsightly homeless from Waikiki.

The organization PHOCUSED ( www. ) has been interviewing hundreds of identified homeless people, evaluating their mental and physical health, their employment, their need for social services, for housing assistance, etc., and has identified 275 specific people as priority for Housing First assistance. These are the most desperate, chronically homeless people. And few of them live in Waikiki, which is the top priority for the City and their allies in the Hotel Industry.

So they have concocted this kapakahi narrative that the tent city will be a place for evaluating people's qualifications for HF assistance as well as other assistance. And have said that people who do not qualify for HF assistance will not be denied temporary housing on Sand Island. In that way, they can SAY the costs of housing the non-HF clients at the facility should be paid for by funds specifically earmarked for HF programs.

It is a scam and a misappropriation of funds. But since the "City Fathers" are all in agreement with the hotel industry, no one, except a few disgruntled activists and the homeless themselves, is going to point out the fraud. And within the social advocacy non-profits with the most familiarity with the actual conditions facing the homeless, there is pressure being put that they all "get in line" behind the Institute for Human Services, the group most likely to be awarded the contract for running the facility.

Non-profits in Hawaii do not only rely upon private grant money and donations for their operations, they also rely upon the connections of their board members and the good graces of the corporations and politicians who can turn off funds to them if they get too "uppity."

I do not know the answer to the conjoined problems of widespread (and growing) homelessness on the one hand and the larger, structural problem that the cost of housing in Hawaii is going up at a much faster rate than are the earnings of most of our people. I am inclined to think the Mayor's proposal to allow developers to set aside 15-20% of the units in a project for rental housing, priced at 80% of average monthly income, is a good step in the right direction for the broader problem of the housing shortage.

But having a community-wide discussion of the housing and homeless problems--or even a discussion limited to social service organizations, politicians and advocacy groups requires that we stop telling lies, as the City is doing now. The public relations people should either be told to STFU or to start observing a code of ethics, seeing their "client" as the people of Honolulu and not any particular politician.

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