Lieutenant governor visits East Hawaii as part of state’s ongoing efforts to address homelessness

Hawaii’s lieutenant governor visited a homeless encampment Wednesday in Hilo as part of an ongoing campaign to address the state’s rampant homelessness problem.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green visited several sites where homeless people congregate in East Hawaii, including a homeless camp nestled in the woods off Railroad Avenue and the homeless congregation around the Mo‘oheau Park Bandstand in Hilo.

The Railroad Avenue camp, a collection of tents and makeshift shelters accessible only by trails through the woods, is largely isolated from surrounding properties, barely visible from the road and firmly entrenched, with neighboring businesses saying the camp has existed in some form for two years or more.

“Sometimes someone from there shows up on our property, but we’ve never had problems with them,” said Chuck Mailloux, general manager of Honsador Lumber, located immediately south of the encampment. “Whenever we tell them they’re on our property they’re polite and they leave without a scene.”

Mailloux said the camp is close enough that he can hear camp residents talking, but the brush is too thick to discern any activity. Police responded to the area once, Mailloux remembered, but no major incident ever spilled over onto Honsador property.

Other businesses have their own concerns about the camp. Employees at one neighboring business said they are always concerned about their safety, even if no particular violent incident has occurred.

“Sometimes, we have break-ins,” one employee said. “They only take whatever can fit into bags, so it’s tools and stuff like that.”

However, the employee said, there is no definitive proof that camp residents are responsible for the break-ins.

Other times, unauthorized personnel walk or bike through neighboring properties, but disappear into the woods before they can be identified, the employee said.

Green, who is visiting homeless communities on each of the state’s islands, said his visit with the island’s homeless confirms the difference between the homeless population on every island.

“It’s much different here than from the situation on Oahu,” Green said. “[The homeless population] is more spread out, and there’s less tight concentrations of people suffering from substance addictions.”

“And we’ll be on Molokai on Friday and it’s going to be completely different there, too,” he added.

Cedric Duarte, spokesperson for the Department of Hawaii Homelands, said the department has been working with Hope Services Hawaii to provide social services for the camp inhabitants.

Green commended Hope Services, Hawaii County and the Hawaii Island Home for Recovery for their efforts in administering service to homeless communities. However, he added, the bottom line is that more permanent housing is necessary on every island to mitigate the issue.

“That’s the common factor I’ve seen everywhere,” Green said.

Green said he thinks current programs can help turn the homeless crisis around. Gov. David Ige’s “ohana zone” project announced last year will create additional shelter space at the old hospital in Hilo, while Green was pleased to see Hilo health consultancy Hui Malama Ola Na ‘Oiwi provide medical care on the street to the homeless around the bandstand.

“After this I’m pretty optimistic we can start to fix this,” Green said.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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