- Associated Press - Monday, July 27, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii Gov. David Ige is creating a new team of city, state and federal representatives to tackle homelessness in the state.

Ige said Monday that the new group will meet weekly to discuss solutions, including what to do about a growing homeless encampment where a lawmaker was attacked in June.

“The underlying causes of homelessness is something that cannot be completely resolved or won’t go away overnight,” Ige said in a news conference. “Homelessness will take sustained, focused effort in order for us to make headway.”

Officials estimate more than 7,600 people are homeless in Hawaii. The issue gained attention after Rep. Tom Brower was attacked at an encampment in the Kakaako neighborhood in Honolulu. More people who live on the streets have joined the growing camp after new city laws prevented them from sitting and lying down in districts like Waikiki. While city and state crews regularly sweep other areas where homeless people live in tents, the Kakaako encampment has remain untouched by cleanup crews for months.

“We do understand that as you enforce in one area they move to those areas that there’s no enforcement, so we want to be thoughtful in how we move forward,” Ige said.

In addition to elected officials, the team will include representatives from law enforcement and nonprofit organizations. The group plans to identify parcels of land that can be used to create temporary shelters in one or two communities and work to transfer residents of homeless encampments to shelters, Ige said.

While there is no official timeline to clear the encampment in Kakaako, the group is working on a plan to find safe locations for its residents to live, said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

“We are ready to begin enforcement in a phased way,” Caldwell said. “We’ve been working with our Honolulu Police Department on an approach that makes sense, that’s methodical, that is announced way before action is taken, working with providers to let people know we’re going to be coming into an area.”

Many families live in Kakaako, and Ige said his new working group will place a priority on helping families and children.

“The reality is Kakaako will not be cleaned up unless there’s a place for them to go to,” Ige said.

The heads of the money committees for the state Senate and House are part of the new group. Since the state budget is already been approved, the group will have to determine which resources that were already appropriated could be directed toward the effort, Ige said.

Advocates for homeless people were disappointed in the progress that the Legislature made in tackling homelessness this year.

“We understand the gravity of this situation. We know that we need action,” said Sen. Jill Tokuda, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “We do have to look at the kinds of resources it takes.”

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