Emergency housing may be possible with agreement

Our County

A collaborative effort led by Maui County cleared and cleaned out a homeless encampment last week on Kane Street property next to the Family Life Center in Kahului.

Complaints about alleged illegal activity and trash at homeless “hot spots” are obviously a public health and safety concern. This intervention and others are the result of a collaborative effort by the Department of Housing and Human Concerns, the Maui Police Department, the Department of Public Works, Department of Environmental Management, Department of Parks and Recreation, state agencies and private landowners. I appreciate their work to get people off the streets with compassion and aloha.

Meanwhile, social workers are engaging with unsheltered people, offering housing and much-needed services. Some have simply fallen on hard times, while others suffer from mental illness and alcohol or drug addictions.

A proactive step in the right direction to address homelessness was taken early this month by the Maui County Council’s Affordable Housing Committee, chaired by Council Member Tasha Kama. The committee recommended approval of an intergovernmental agreement between the County of Maui and the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp. for development of emergency housing at the former dormitories at the University of Hawaii Maui College. A memorandum of understanding gives the county access to $5 million in state funding for the renovation and replacement of the existing 12 units at the dorm and money for predevelopment of possible additional rental units.

On Tuesday, I went on a site visit of the dorm buildings with Kama and Lt. Gov. Josh Green. Despite the deteriorated condition of these former student housing units, I’m confident that these can be renovated to get as many families off the street as soon as possible. Today, the committee’s recommendation to approve the intergovernmental agreement is on the council’s agenda for first reading.

In an initiative to improve public health, I’m backing the “Give Healthy Challenge,” a Blue Zones Project, in partnership with the Maui Food Bank. I’m challenging businesses to host food drives that meet healthy food guidelines, including more fresh fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, many people can’t afford healthy foods and choose less expensive and unhealthy food, based on availability.

The campaign is ongoing through Oct. 31. Businesses can sign up by calling the Maui Food Bank at 243-9500.

This month, it’s been my pleasure to issue numerous proclamations and honorary certificates to many who make valuable contributions to our community.

Recently, I celebrated Community Action Month with Maui Economic Opportunity Inc.; proclaimed this week as Hospital Week; recognized outstanding law enforcement officers, junior police officers, high school athletes, Rotary scholarship award winners and Civil Air Patrol cadets; honored Hui No Ke Ola Pono Community Health Center for its tele-dentistry pilot project; proclaimed “Go For Broke Month” to recognize the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center’s work to perpetuate the memory of wartime service of nisei veterans; congratulated keiki who submitted winning water conservation posters and videos; and enjoyed some good times and music with Grammy Award-winning Maui singer, songwriter and producer Kalani Pe’a.

This month, we are in graduation season, and I congratulate all the high school and college graduates who’ve worked hard to earn their degrees. I’m confident that their quest for higher education will lead them to ever greater opportunities in life.

Last week, it was my honor and privilege to deliver the commencement address to graduates at UH-Maui College. I challenged them to step up and help make Maui County a better place to live. I offered my congratulations and thanks to the graduates’ parents, families, faculty and staff who’ve provided much-needed support along the way.

While it is indeed a time to celebrate this milestone in graduates’ lives, it’s also important to remain mindful of safety while driving on our roads and highways. It’s all too easy to let our guard down when distracted by graduation celebrations or even something as simple as a text message while driving.

Please stay safe, don’t drink and drive, and arrive alive.

Aloha.

* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, discusses county issues and activities of county government. The column usually appears on the first and third Fridays of the month.

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