Council shifts $5.3 million
from homeless program

The City Council is redistributing $5.3 million in federal housing grants that were destined to fund a program supported by Mayor Jeremy Harris to help the homeless.

City & County of Honolulu The grants, approved yesterday, will now instead go to three other projects, including $1.5 million to help buy the 90 acres beneath Poamoho Camp, where residents face eviction by Del Monte Fresh Produce Hawaii.

Harris administration officials had warned the Council that the shift of funds would be illegal.

"This is a matter that can only be raised ... upon the recommendation of the mayor," Deputy Budget Director Chris Diebling said.

Some councilmembers disagreed.

Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, chairwoman of the Budget Committee, said Council lawyers informed them that the action is permissible.

Councilman Gary Okino was among two members to object to the measure. Okino asked that the item be deferred until the legal question is cleared up.

Councilwoman Barbara Marshall said she has similar concerns, but added, "I don't like to do anything illegal either ... but I am really tired of our being put in the position of this legal cloud without any kind of definitive opinion."

Marshall and others said the federal government has pointed out problems with the administration's homeless residential transitional center, which would bring together aid agencies under one roof. The project remains stalled and the funding could lapse at the end of the year.

In addition, they said, the three projects being funded -- Poamoho, Tusitala Vista elderly rental housing project ($3.1 million) and Steadfast Housing Development ($714,00) -- actually address homeless issues.

Councilman Mike Gabbard attempted to save part of the funding for the homeless program, but his last-minute amendment was voted down.

Poamoho camp is home to 300 Del Monte pineapple workers, retirees and their families. The company gave the residents 120-day notices in February to vacate their homes. The deadline is June 9.

The company's lease on the camp's 90 acres and surrounding 2,110 acres of agricultural land expires June 30. Del Monte needs to raze the camp before returning the property to landowner George Galbraith Trust.

Officials with Local 142 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents Poamoho pineapple workers, said the federal grant money will help with the long-term goal of acquiring the camp while negotiations continue to enable the residents to remain at the camp past June 30.


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