A homeless man lays on a Big Island sidewalk. PC: Big Island Now
Hawai‘i County has its sights set on commencing construction of Kailua-Kona’s Village 9 homeless project by early Spring 2020.
Sharon Hirota, executive assistant to Mayor Harry Kim, said project developer PBR Hawaii and Associates, Inc. is in the final stages of design and pre-construction, which account for the bulk of work necessary to take the plan from paper to reality.
Once finished, it will clear the way for 16 congregational shelter-units providing private living quarters as well as a communal kitchen, assessment center and restrooms. Contractors will also construct a manager’s unit, a green space for gathering and a parking area. A permanent road leading to the site will be built as well.
Wraparound services, including mental health and drug abuse counseling, will be offered on-site by a team of service providers who will staff Village 9. Plans to provide at least some measure of 24-hour security are included, but paying for security services has proven a long-term problem for homeless initiatives in the past, including at Camp Kikaha, which opened after police cleared Old Kona Airport Park of dozens of homeless in 2017.
Housing will be granted on a first-come, first-serve basis, focusing on single adult homeless and homeless couples. That means the first phase of the project could house up to 32 individuals, but will likely take fewer homeless off the street. If all goes to plan, the undetermined number of homeless between 16 and 32 will take up residence at Village 9 sometime in the summer of 2020.
Community outreach efforts have included a grassroots marketing campaign to enlist homeless to occupy the housing encampment. There were over 600 single homeless people registered in the county’s Homeless Management Information System in early 2019, with more than 100 who had expressed interest in housing options, according to HOPE Services CEO Brandee Menino.
The 2019 Point in Time Count put the islandwide homeless count at 690. However, the total number of homeless on Hawai‘i Island is generally thought to be considerably higher than that figure.
The PIT Count is a self-reported survey conducted by volunteers who spend a week annually canvassing communities for homeless and asking them if they had a roof over their heads on a single evening, capturing a one-night snapshot of the homeless situation. All involved view the count as a jumping-off point that reflects a lower total of homeless than the actual amount.
Fund of $1.5 million from the State Legislature’s Ohana Zone package, passed in 2019, will fund the first phase of the Village 9 project. The overall plan includes 64 shelter units, the timelines and ultimate completion of which will rely on county officials’ ability to raise the necessary funds through the Legislature, grant programs and potentially a variety of other assets, Hirota said.
The hope is Ohana Zone funding will provide a baseline to pay for the first phase of the camp for up to three years.
The site for Village 9, off of Kealakekua Parkway near the West Hawai‘i Civic Center and Kealakehe High School in Kailua-Kona, has been a point of contention since the conception of the plan by county officials.
An environmental assessment of the project, which included the development of a state affordable housing project and the Kealakehe Regional Park on parcels immediately adjacent to Village 9, was conducted, in part, to give the community a chance to offer input.
Much of that input included concerns about community and social issues that often accompany the settlement of homeless in an area, even if that area is equipped with housing for them. However, the location of Village 9 ultimately remained the same.