Last week, Hawai'i County started clearing homeless people from Old Airport Park. It was the first step of a process that continues this week—with a more extensive cleanup. The County and private agencies have made significant progress in helping resolve the issue of where people can live. HPR contributing reporter Sherry Bracken explains.
According to people working on the scene more than 46 of 68 people from Old Kona Airport have shelter.
That’s a result of shared efforts between Hawai'i County and private agencies
Brandee Menino is the CEO of HOPE Services, part of the Catholic Church. Her four outreach workers who normally cover Hawi to Volcano have all spent the last month with the homeless at Old Airport.
“They want to move into shelter. The majority of those experiencing homelessness are local residents here more than 10 years. 15% from off island. 55% part Hawaiian.”
Menino’s team has placed 17 people in shelters or housing. Hawai'i County has placed 29 people in Camp Kikaha, a new tent city next to the county shelter. Menino says there are various reasons people needed help.
“Loss of job, decrease in income, physical disabilities, mental health, addiction. The affordability of housing, especially in West Hawai'i.”
Kevin was one of the lucky ones to get a shelter bed.
“I’ve been homeless for about four months, I’m getting back to work right now, I was out of work because I had two retina surgeries, I was working for 17 years moving tropical furniture and unloading containers, driving a forklift, it came with a place to live, when I lost the job, I lost the place to live.”
So far, all visible homeless tents and trash are gone from Old Airport. There are still some people living in the bushes, out of sight of security, they tell us. Hawai'i County Assistant Police Chief Mitchell Kanehailua says his officers do have a role.
“We’re gonna assist the security personnel. Basically our job is to enforce county ordinances. The officers have a lot of closeness with these residents, they know them on a first name basis. We’re not there to carry people out, we’re hoping all the other cogs in this operation will work.”
The next stage of the cleanup at Old Airport is this week Wednesday and Thursday.