(BIVN) – Hawaiʻi Lieutenant Governor Josh Green could end up playing a big role in the state’s initiatives on homelessness, and the future of his office could hang in the balance.
As a former state senator serving the Big Island, Green was a champion of progressive solutions to the homeless crisis. As a physician, he knows the situation on the ground and is familiar with the social and economic impacts.
“I’ve actually asked the Governor to trust me with the lion’s share of homeless initiatives,” Lt. Gov. Green recently told the House Finance Committee in Honolulu. “Especially the innovative approach that has emerged in the last two years. I think [the administration has] done a pretty good job working on some of the nuts of bolts of homelessness, the more traditional stuff, as they look at housing first or just traditional housing. But this was a new beast.”
Earlier in the information briefing, Ford Fuchigami, the Administrative Director for the Office of Governor David Ige, discussed the ‘Ohana Zones initiative with the Finance Committee. Act 209 appropriated $30 million to establish at least three ‘Ohana Zone sites on O‘ahu, and one each on Maui, Hawai‘i Island and Kaua‘i. Under the plan, 13 units at the Ulu Wini Housing Project in West Hawai‘i will be converted to permanent supportive housing, and another 10 units will be converted to an emergency shelter.
Hilo’s State Representative Chris Todd had some questions. “Based on the $17.3 million, which is the governor’s initial release for the ‘Ohana Zones funding, the Big Island gets significantly less than other islands,” Rep. Todd said, adding that he was under the impression that the Big Island “has the worst homelessness problem per capita” in the state.
Fuchigami said the recent Kīlauea Volcano disaster had an effect on their approach, saying that at the time the lava was flowing, “we had to make sure that we we didn’t mix up the homeless structures that we were gonna build versus transitional homes that we’re gonna do for the people who lost [their homes in the eruption].” Fushigami said that the administration wanted to wait for two new county mayors (on Maui and Kauai) to take office before releasing the remaining $12 million for ‘Ohana Zones.
“I would like [Gov. Ige] to give me ownership of that responsibility,” Lt. Governor Green said later in the meeting, telling the state representatives that he would like to have chronic homelessness in his portfolio. “I’m trying to be mindful not to tread on the toes of some of the people that are already there. This is just the initial part of the transition because he’s still even choosing his directors.”
“We have had two different perspectives between the legislative branch and the executive branch on pieces of homelessness,” Green said, noting that chronic homelessness blends into opioid addiction and mental health care, of which he has a deep understanding.
“You’re more knowledgeable about homeless and mental health issues than the current governor’s office or the people in the governor’s office,” Finance Committee Chair, Rep. Sylvia Luke, told Green. “But the question is, what happens if you’re not able to do what you have the potential of doing?”
“I guess this will be a test case,” Chair Luke stated. “So, if it actually doesn’t work out, and somehow your talents and experiences are not fully utilized, I think the question on people’s mind will be: is the lieutenant governor’s role effectively being utilized by the state? And whether we should move towards eliminating the lieutenant governor’s office and make it an appointed secretary of state position?”
“Ultimately,” Chair Luke mused, “if the lieutenant governor will be handcuffed in just doing what the governor tells you to do, in spite of the fact that you might know more than what their office does, I think it leads to whether we should have an elected lieutenant governor at all.”