VIDEO: The state wants to open 6 ‘ohana zones’ for the homeless. (Just don’t call them tent cities)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – The Ige Administration is close to launching its first “ohana zones” statewide.

While the state is still vetting sites, officials say the ohana zones will sit on state or county land and use existing buildings so each zone can get up and running quickly.

The state Legislature put up to $30 million of taxpayer money to get the project off the ground.

State homeless officials want to start with six ohana zones for the homeless — three on Oahu and one each on Kauai, Maui and Hawaii Island. More could be opened in the future.

Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator, said Gov. David Ige is not interested in using tents.

“The governor and myself have been clear that we have reservations about tent cities. About just setting up tents or tarps on vacant land and calling it a safe zone,” he said. “We’ve tried that before in the past in Hawaii. It hasn’t worked.”

Under the law, the definition of an ohana zone is very broad.

Morishige’s vision is to make them a mixture of temporary and permanent housing with on-site support services.

“There’s a need for more long-term housing. More housing first, supportive housing type units to help get chronically homeless individuals quickly off the street,” he said. “As well as emergency crisis beds. So individuals who are encountered and may not immediately be able to go to shelter have a place to come in get stabilized.”

Each zone will be different depending on the needs of the community.

Brandee Menino, head of homeless service provider Hope Services Hawaii, said projects like this are needed in Kona, Waimea, Hilo and Puna.

After looking at the properties that are available, Menino believes the most logical place to start is West Hawaii.

“On our island we only have a 44-bed emergency shelter in Hilo,” she said. “The county actually owns an apartment complex in Kona. What we’re also missing in Kona is that there is no emergency shelter there.”

The state says it will start to announce exact locations very soon.

The first ohana zone is expected to open in early January.

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