Big Island Wrestles with Homelessness

Jun 28, 2019

Credit daveynin / Flickr

In discussions about homelessness in Hawai’i, much of the attention is often focused on O’ahu. But it’s a statewide issue — with different situations on each island. That includes Hawai’i Island.

The most recent Point in Time count says the Big Island has 690 homeless individuals, with around 150 thought to hang out around downtown Hilo, and 150 fairly visible around downtown Kailua Village.  

Businessman Mattson Davis runs what's called the Brewery Block in Kona, current and future home to several restaurants and shops. His frustration reflects the feelings of many in the community.

"We've increased our security to the tune of $2,000 a month. We probably have a dozen people camping and loitering and hanging out on the sidewalks. Every day we're picking up two to three garbage bags full of trash off of our properties — human feces, clothes, couches, we've got mattresses, tarps, everything.  We're probably asking two dozen people a day to leave our property that have been arrested for trespassing and yet are still back there." 

Sharon Hirota is with Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim's office. She says the County is using $4 million dollars in state funding to create two Ohana Zone projects to help address the problem.

"The first project in East Hawaii, we're converting the old Memorial Hospital, an ideal space to provide up to 50 emergency beds for single men. Another project is Kukui Ola, formerly known as Village 9, off of Kealakehe Parkway. Phase one will add up to 30 emergency beds for individuals, tiny homes, people will have shared showers and access to kitchen facilities."

Hirota says the County is also adding an assessment center in West Hawaii at the Homes at UluWini to assess the needs of families and then try to find housing and services. She expects all three projects to be in operation later this year.