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Bill would allow people without homes to sleep in their parked cars

County attorneys say they have concerns about the proposal

WAILUKU — A Maui County Council member is hoping to establish a pilot project to allow people to sleep in their vehicles overnight at the county’s South Maui Regional Park.

Council Member Kelly King, who holds the South Maui residency seat, originally had hoped to get a bill passed by the council before Christmas by skipping the committee review process, but the Department of the Corporation Counsel had legal concerns and is seeking comment from county department heads.

The measure calling for the “use of vehicles for human habitation” was referred to the council’s Housing, Human Services and Transportation Committee at the Nov. 17 council meeting.

“I don’t want to get hung up on making it perfect,” she said Wednesday, noting that the measure was meant as a pilot project. The idea of a pilot project is to work out the kinks and to see if a broader ordinance is doable, she said.

The aim of the measure is to give families without a home but with a car “a place to sleep overnight,” she said. They could be in a safe area with access to a bathroom. She wants to ensure children get a good night’s rest and are ready for school without the risk of having to move along with their families in the middle of the night.

State law prohibits people from living in their vehicles on public property, such as a beach parks. Police end up moving campers along and ticketing repeat offenders, she said.

King added that the state law allows counties wiggle room to enact bills, such as the pilot project. The program would involve people registering to stay the night; exact hours have not been determined.

The South Maui Regional Park is makai of the Piilani Highway, between Hope Chapel and Kihei Elementary and Lokelani Intermediate schools. It has restrooms and is not near homes or businesses, King said.

The pilot project has the support of police, parks and South Maui community officials.

Maui police officer Taylor Kamakawiwo’ole said at the Nov. 17 meeting that the pilot project could give these families a safer place to sleep and allow children a safe place to rest “so they can study harder and get better grades as well.”

He estimated 15 to 20 families or individuals sleep in their vehicles in the Kihei area.

In response to questions by council members, Kamakawiwo’ole said the South Maui Regional Park is a good place for this pilot project because it is not near residential backyards, and the surrounding schools would be closed long before the cars park for the night.

“We are having meetings to discuss a possible resolution. We are in support of it, if it is funded and supervised the proper way,” said Department of Parks and Recreation Director Ka’ala Buenconsejo on Monday.

Kihei Community Association President Mike Moran said the association supports launching the pilot program at the proposed site. Security should be hired to keep the site safe and perhaps a shower should be installed, he added.

“We felt it was reasonable if they were going to do what they indicated,” Moran said.

As for the pilot program’s costs, King there would be none “off the bat.” She is looking for volunteer help.

The idea to give people a place to legally sleep in their cars came out of community meetings facilitated by King’s office to seek input on how to spend $1.5 million that developers put into a workforce housing development fund to address homelessness in South Maui.

The funds are entrusted to Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Center, the nonprofit that runs emergency shelters and transitional housing programs in Lahaina and Wailuku. As the community and Ka Hale A Ke Ola work on developing a plan for the funds, King said the pilot project is something that can be done in the meantime to help homeless people.

* Managing Editor Lee Imada contributed to this story. Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.