HPD chief says ‘temporary refuge areas’ could help Oahu’s homeless problem

Published: Mar. 5, 2019 at 2:27 AM CST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - With new data showing the number of people living on the streets of Oahu at a 10-year high, Honolulu police chief Susan Ballard is speaking out, offering new solutions aimed at helping the island’s homeless.

Following a meeting with the Ige Administration late last month, Ballard wrote a letter to the state’s lieutenant governor, outlining a half-dozen ideas.

“We spoke very candidly about the challenges the police are facing,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Green

Currently out of town, the chief wasn’t available for interviews on Monday, but she did provide Hawaii News Now with a copy of the letter — including a plan that would incorporate what are known as Lift Zones.

The Idea would allow HPD to temporarily set up military-style tents in portions of some neighborhood parks. The shelters would operate around the clock, for up to three months in any one park, and be pet-friendly.

Residents would be allowed to be slightly intoxicated at the site, but drug use would be prohibited. There would be security and service providers at the tents to help people transition off the street.

To be eligible for the Lift Zones, HPD officials say residents would first have to choose two brick-and-mortar homeless shelters. Once one of those become available, they’d have to accept that shelter service or be asked to exit the zone for 30 days.

Ballard also backed the creation of “temporary refuge areas.”

“I think it’s Lift Zones plus,” said Green. “It will be temporary, but it will be more health care. More social respite. Some people are having so much trouble with their mental illness and addiction they won’t go into housing until we get them that next step better.”

Mayor Kirk Caldwell first saw a copy of the letter this morning.

“I thought it was a great letter,” he said.

In an interview, he called on the state to release $6 million to fund HPD’s Lift Zone project — but wanted to know more about temporary refuge areas before throwing his support behind it.

“I’m willing to try different things to see if we’d get a different result,” said Caldwell.

Ballard also said she wants to see Joint Outreach Centers, like the one in Chinatown, in the communities of Kakaako, Kaneohe, Waianae, Waipahu, Wahiawa and Pearl City.

The clinics would provide homeless patients with medical care,mental health services, drug detox and housing.

She also asked for a psychiatrist for the department’s Central Receiving to evaluate detainees who may have mental illness in an effort to provide treatment and medication.

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