Updated: September 30, 2022
A bill to create a pilot project so houseless residents may use their vehicles as overnight habitation in county parking lots was passed Tuesday, but some are voicing concerns over which properties may become a “safe sleeping zone.”
An updated version of Bill 108 was approved unanimously by Maui County Council on second and final reading Tuesday. It gives the county a way to bypass state law that restricts people from sleeping overnight in vehicles on any roadway, street, highway or other public property.
Up to $200,000 has been allocated in this year’s budget for the pilot, and council members Tuesday said they hope the administration implements the project soon.
However, Mayor Michael Victorino and Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura on Tuesday said some residents are worried about potential sites for the pilot project.
“While I am not opposed to the concept, the devil is in the details,” Victorino said via email. “However, I do not approve of using parking lots at recreational facilities because county parks are not zoned for this purpose. My office has already heard strong community opposition to county parks being used as ‘sleeping zones.’”
Sugimura said county parks are used by families for soccer or baseball, and residents may stay late after practices and games.
“The people who contacted me were in several districts and they basically were concerned about this happening and not having input as to the park — was it open to all parks or is it going to be determined?” Sugimura asked.
Council Chairperson Alice Lee later Tuesday said she thought the administration would be moving the pilot forward. She added that council can make site decisions if that’s what the mayor wants.
“County parks and parking lots are not within the purview of the council, but hey, if he wants us to pick one, I’m sure we can,” she told Maui Now via phone. “We haven’t had that kind of a meeting where we discussed specific situations because who would know better than the Parks department and/or the Public Works department? But again, even though we don’t oversee the operations of any parking lot, I’m sure the council will be happy to review our inventory and decide which one would be best suited for this purpose.”
As for timeline, Victorino said he anticipated council would pass the bill, so he asked the county’s Department of Housing and Human Concerns to begin work on an invitation to bid for qualified organizations to manage this pilot program.
“Once the Maui County Council identifies its preferred program locations, my administration will move forward with issuing the Invitation to Bid,” he said.
Council’s unanimous vote of 9-0 Tuesday passed an amended version of Bill 108 to clarify that only residents can use the “safe sleeping zone.” Separate measures are being considered to restrict or regulate mobile transient accommodations, where Maui County visitors are using vehicles to sleep in illegal places overnight.
Introduced by Council Member Kelly King, Bill 108 has had support from advocates for houseless individuals, especially during a time when the housing crisis has worsened.
Some Maui residents who are forced to live in their vehicles are paying taxes, working and taking their kids to school but they can’t afford the “exorbitant rent,” she said. Since the pandemic, housing prices have skyrocketed to a median sales price of well over $1 million and rents are doubling in some places.
“I appreciate the council’s support of this pilot project because I’ve been trying to work on this since I first got on the council,” King said before the vote. “And I don’t think the need has not gone away — if anything it’s gotten greater.”
The 2022 Bridging the Gap Point In Time Count, an annual one-night snapshot of homelessness on Neighbor Islands, reported that Maui County saw a 5% increase for unsheltered homelessness with 414 people in 2020 and 436 in 2022.
Unsheltered homelessness is most prevalent in Central Maui, with 160 individuals, and Lahaina, with 157 individuals, according to the study. Kīhei and Upcountry each had 56 individuals, Lower Waiehu had six people and Hana had one person.
Unsheltered homelessness refers to people whose primary nighttime location is a public or private place not designated for a regular sleeping accommodation for people, for example, the streets, vehicles, beaches, or parks, the study said.
Bill 108 allows people to use their vehicle as a dwelling place from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. within designated areas at county parking lots. County staff or other authorized personnel would monitor the lot from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Vehicles would have to enter from 10 to 11 p.m. and exit between 5 and 6 a.m., according to the legislation. Gates to the lot would be locked at 11 p.m. and remain locked until 5 a.m.
Each person within the vehicle would have to register with department staff or authorized personnel when entering the lot. Cooking is prohibited, and all county, state and federal laws, rules and regulations would have to be followed.