- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 15, 2017

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) - After drawing much skepticism from the community, an open-air homeless camp in Kailua-Kona has become a symbol of optimism after only more than a week into its existence.

Linda Vandervoort was one of the community members who was more than a little skeptical when she learned of the county’s plan to pack a large group of homeless people into the heart of the Old Kona Industrial Area.

But now, Vandervoort is helping run the camp.

“This is actually a miracle,” said Vandervoort, who’s been working with Kona’s homeless in official and unofficial capacities for years. “If you told me two weeks ago you were going to put this specific group of people together in a place like this, I would have said, ‘What are you talking about? That’ll never work.’”

The area initially was slated for 20 people, but within a week grew to 32. Vandervoort said that is the site’s maximum capacity.

The homeless people were ushered out of Old Airport Park last week, West Hawaii Today reports (https://bit.ly/2w7ImCT).

“This is proof that if we have a designated spot for our homeless population, they will utilize it,” she said.

Vandervoort said police have been called into the site daily. But she said behavioral issues are lessening as people adapt to their new living conditions.

Former chronically homeless individuals living in the adjacent micro units constructed last year have clashed with their new neighbors. And some of the new arrivals initially bucked at the rules, which include no unregistered visitors after 5 p.m., no drugs or alcohol on the premises, and designated smoking areas. But no one has left, and the county has not been forced to permanently kick out anyone.

“This is a raw, authentic group of people,” Vandervoort said. “When you talk to people, they tell you how it is. It’s real. There’s no guesswork.”

Hale Kikaha has proven it can function successfully as a transitional piece - the first step in the process of moving people into permanent housing.

The guidelines have allowed social service providers offering mental health and substance abuse counseling access to an otherwise transient population. At Hale Kikaha, resident engagement with such services is mandatory.

The homeless who have decided to acquiesce to the guidelines at Hale Kikaha have reaped the benefits. The site affords those living there a guarantee of fresh water and two meals every day. The security presence has also drastically reduced incidents of victimization, primarily theft of belongings.

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This story has been corrected to attribute to West Hawaii Today

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Information from: West Hawaii Today, https://www.westhawaiitoday.com

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