County sets up encampment for homeless in downtown Hilo

Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald An encampment set up Friday off Ponahawai Street between Kilauea and Kamehameha Avenue has 20 tents for those experiencing homelessness.

Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald People walk through the encampment Friday off Ponahawai Street between Kilauea and Kamehameha Avenue.

Hawaii County has begun setting up a temporary encampment to house homeless people in downtown Hilo.

While a more permanent shelter is scheduled to open next to the Salvation Army on Ponahwai Street in August, the county has set up an array of tents on a county-managed lot just down the street.


The temporary shelter consists of 20 tents on a Ponahawai Street parcel makai of Kilauea Avenue.

“This area was specifically chosen to ensure residents could remain together without moving to business fronts,” according to a press release from the mayor’s office.

The new site — referred to as a “temporary resting area” — was set up today in anticipation of an upcoming inspection of Hilo’s storm drain system by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

To facilitate that inspection, the “resting area” will house the homeless individuals occupying the storm drain.

“This temporary site is a critical measure to ensure the safety and well-being of our unsheltered community members,” said Mayor Mitch Roth in a statement. “We are committed to providing safe and reliable care while permanent housing options are being prepared.”

Businesses along Ponahawai Street were cautious about the new encampment Friday.

Taylor Coons, owner of Nalu Builds Design Center, said she has had to call the police on multiple occasions in the past because of altercations between homeless people sheltering on the vacant lot, but added that the additional supervision at the new encampment should at least reduce the number of disturbances.

The “relocation” is anticipated to last through August, as development of the longer-term shelter at Salvation Army continues.

The county Office of Housing and Community Development, the Department of Parks and Recreation and other nonprofit service providers, including Neighborhood Place of Puna and Project Vision, participated in the relocation efforts.

See Sunday’s Tribune-Herald for more.

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