Hawaii’s governor vows that tourists won’t displace Maui fire survivors
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser September 22, 2023
(Tribune News Service) — Green said he was astounded by how many survivors asked that Lahaina be reopened up for tourism.
Gov. Josh Green assured displaced survivors of the Lahaina fire that they will not be forced to leave their hotels and other temporary accommodations once West Maui opens to tourism Oct. 8.
“There is a counternarrative that we should not open up for several years, “ Green told reporters Thursday at a state Capitol news conference. “That’s not possible. But we won’t displace individuals who are currently in hotels or other Airbnbs or other housing to accommodate anyone.”
Nearly 8, 000 survivors of the Aug. 8 wind-driven wildfire that killed at least 97 people and destroyed over 2, 000 structures in Lahaina have been placed at 40 hotels and other accommodations around the island.
Earlier this month, Green announced that West Maui would open to the public Oct. 8, a move intended to allow residents to get back to work and to kick-start the economy.
“There’s nothing magical about that (date ), except that it was two months from when the fire occurred, and we just have to begin to heal, “ he said.
Green said he was astounded by how many survivors asked that Lahaina be reopened for tourism.
“About 85 % of the people that we spoke to asked us to open up almost immediately so that they could keep their jobs, “ he said. “Others will feel differently, and we’re not going to pressure them to go back to work or do anything of the sort, but we do know that recovery has to begin.”
State Business, Economic Development and Tourism Director James Tokioka said the state is not condoning properties that are asking survivors—including their own hotel employees—to leave without alternative housing solutions.
“So we want to make that clear. We want to make sure every single survivor has an opportunity, wherever that may be, for shelter, “ Tokioka said.
Green said few tourists are expected to travel to West Maui in the coming months, and he expects those who do will be repeat visitors who will be respectful as the town works to rise from the ashes.
Other developments announced by Green on Thursday :—Plans will be unveiled Tuesday for construction of a school to replace King Kamehameha III Elementary School, which was destroyed in the blaze. “I have authorized resources, “ he said. “I think it’s central to healing to have education for our keiki.”—The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to provide up to $1.5 billion in construction work to help with Lahaina’s recovery.
Green, his lieutenants and representatives of the Red Cross and Hawaii Community Foundation on Thursday described a variety of programs and efforts that will end up pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into Maui for housing assistance and other needs in the coming months.
Among them is a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program that will provide $100 million to help families with dependent children with up to four months of housing, utilities, transportation costs and to assist with a one-time purchase of clothing and school supplies, Green said.
Another state-funded program will bring $12.5 million for businesses affected by the fire. Details of program, to be administered by Maui County, are still being worked out.
Micah Kane, president of the Hawaii Community Foundation, which administers the Maui Strong Fund, said $120 million has been raised from over 200, 000 donors across the world, representing 50 countries.
Nearly $25 million has either been already appropriated or will be going to over 100 community organizations working to support Maui.
“We’re definitely moving from rapid-response mode to a stabilization and recovery phase. And what that really means is we’re looking for deeper, bigger, broader impacts and investments in our community, “ Kane said.
The money, he said, will leverage government funding and is likely to go toward temporary housing, schools, transportation and health care services that aim to create an “interim, new normal that the people of Maui should expect.”
Green said that while application deadlines are approaching, no one displaced by the fire will be left homeless.
“People are traumatized, and when they see stuff on the internet, they get afraid, “ he said. “But we’re not pushing people out. And if anyone does get displaced ... the Red Cross or our office or others will intervene directly to make sure they have a roof over their head.”
Green added that he was considering imposing a moratorium on short-term rentals if authorities are unable to find enough housing for the displaced.
“I implore people out there : Please consider putting your unit into the rental pool so that we can secure rentals for these severely affected families for at least 18 months. Please do that. It will make it easier for all of us, “ he said.
American Red Cross Deputy Coordinating Officer Adam Runkle said his nonprofit agency has distributed over $10 million to the community, and more is on the way with another phase of financial assistance opening in the fall.
Runkle said he is aware of the concern from affected un documented immigrants in Lahaina who may be hesitant to step forward to request financial assistance.
“Let me reassure you : The American Red Cross is not a governmental organization. That allows us to be able to provide our care to everyone in need, regardless of citizenship status. Furthermore, we do not allow survivor information to be shared with immigration authorities, “ he said.
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