Josh Green sworn in as new Hawaiʻi governor; addresses homelessness, housing and climate change
December 5, 2022, 2:41 PM HST
* Updated December 5, 2:59 PM
Hawaiʻi’s new Governor Josh Green M.D., started out as a physician in Hawaiʻi more than 20 years ago at a small clinic on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi. In the years that followed, Gov. Green said he learned more about the challenges faced by residents as a member of the state House and the Senate from 2004 to 2018. Today, he steps into a new role as the ninth governor of the state of Hawaiʻi.
An inauguration was held Monday morning at the Neal Blaisdell Center Arena on Oʻahu, as Gov. Green and Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke were sworn in.
Video of the inauguration is available here.
Green vows to release funds to address homelessness
In his inaugural address, Gov. Green said that when he was elected as Lt. Gov. four years ago, he began to address the homeless with a new commitment. “We found small pieces of land in the last few years–one in Waimanalo, one in Kalaeloa–where we started to build the kauhale villages,” said Green. “Local developers donated their time and their expertise, materials, resources, and these tiny homes began to sprout up.”
“We can end chronic homelessness in Hawaiʻi if we pull together,” he said. Gov. Green said he has already reached out to County Mayors to discuss building kauhale in each county throughout the state.
The Kauhale initiative is a concept that follows a “traditional, cultural model of housing consisting of tiny homes clusters and communal areas for restrooms, cooking, and gathering,” according to a project description. “Kauhale are meant to foster a sense of community and ownership among their formerly homeless residents.”
“It seems so simple. Sometimes it feels complex, but we’ll use parcels of land, partner with the private sector… we will build villages and support them with nurses and social workers, and everyone else in Hawaiʻi who wants to come together to lend a helping hand… And to show you that our administration will not wait one minute to take action to help people, I’ll authorize the release of the $50 million of grants in aid before the end of this year that Legislature had the wisdom to approve in May, but it has taken some time to be released. We will take that action as soon as we can,” said Gov. Green.
Green said the funds will go towards organizations across the state including the Hawaiʻi Blood Bank, the Hawaiʻi Food Bank, the Domestic Violence Action Center, Aloha Medical Mission, the Humane Society, Special Olympics and others. He said the money would help to pay for social workers, health care workers, food for children, and to create safe places for individuals in need.
Addressing affordable housing and cost of living:
He said going forward, he will also work to address affordable housing for all of Hawaiʻi. In addition to building “thousands of homes for Hawaiʻi’s families,” he said he would also turn thousands of illegal Air BnBs into affordable rentals.
Gov. Green said another task will be to empower the Department of Hawaiian Homelands with the $600M from the legislature, “to once and for all keep our commitments to the Hawaiian people to bring peace and healing, and house the thousands of Hawaiian families on the waiting list. This is a priority for Jaime and I.”
“We dealt with the worst global pandemic in a century, better than anyone else, but we are still witnessing an epidemic of poverty and injustice our own back yard,” said Gov. Green.
With the legislature’s help, he said, “I would like to end and eliminate regressive taxes like the tax on food and medicine. I will humbly ask my collages to do that. The reason that I ask for that consideration is that the poorest families are hit the worst, and those struggling to survive from paycheck to paycheck really can’t afford that tax.”
Lessons learned overseas: “There’s no challenge that the people of Hawaiʻi can’t meet if we pull together”
Gov. Green said some of the greatest lessons learned come from outside of the state. He spoke of the crisis that was unfolding in Western Samoa in September 2019, with a measles outbreak, that he said especially threatened children.
“I wanted to help in some small way as a volunteer doctor with three or four colleagues–maybe some donated medicine, and to bring attention to the crisis that perhaps a Lt. Gov. can,” said Gov. Green.
He later learned of how grave the situation was and launched an emergency medical mission. “Within 48 hours, around 100 of our local health care professionals… flew all the way across the Pacific… and we landed in Samoa to vaccinate their people,” said Gov. Green.
According to Gov. Green, “In 36 hours our volunteer medical mission from Hawaiʻi did what we were asked to do–we vaccinated 36,997 people against the measles, and six days later, the measles just stopped spreading. Children stopped dying.”
He said the mission was exhausting, but filled him and others with a sense of Aloha. He said he shared the story because, “In that moment I realized there is absolutely no challenge that the people of Hawaiʻi can’t meet if we pull together–that just in a few days we could stand together and care for a whole other country. So surely we can stand for ourselves.
Working through COVID, sacrifice and emergence:
Six months after returning from Samoa, COVID-19 gained worldwide attention. “COVID would ultimately spread to every corner of the earth including Hawaiʻi… Our health experts told us that without decisive action, as many as 10,000 of our people–mostly kupuna–would pass away, would die in Hawaiʻi. But again, because of our values–because we weren’t going to let that happen, we knew that we could pull together and put up a good fight, and that fight saved lives,” said Gov. Green.
He touted Hawaiʻi’s high vaccination rate, it’s lowest fatality rate of any state in the country, and partnerships that grew out of the pandemic.
“None of this was achieved without incredible sacrifice. Small businesses suffered, our economy slowed. We did everything we could to support our people with Safe Travels programs and responsible guidelines. It was difficult. Our teachers returned to work even though there were too many keiki in each classroom for pandemic conditions,” said Gov. Green.
“In the end, because of how we all are, how we come together as one family–with aloha and common purpose–here, far away from the mainland, Hawaiʻi led the nation in almost every measure of success during this pandemic. We were the safest place in America, we were one ʻohana,” said Gov. Green.
Huliau, climate change, and concluding thoughts:
Kumu Hula Vicky Holt Takamine spoke about the theme of the event, “Huliau,” or a new beginning. She pointed to the eruption of Mauna Loa and Kīlauea along with Poliʻahu presenting herself with snow on Hawaiʻi Island–all at the same time. She said it marked a time of “new beginnings” also as the moon is in the Hua phase, pointing toward a time of fruitfulness and collaboration.
In concluding his address, Gov. Green said, “We must come together to address the great challenge of this century, climate change… Hawaiʻi will lead on climate change when others just talk or refuse to act.” He said “ambitious” renewable energy goals will be reached in the coming years, by aggressively approving a range of renewable energy projects in our state.
“We can set an example for the whole world on the issues of housing, homelessness, poverty and climate change, if we truly come together and commit to putting our values of ʻohana and aloha into practice — and make them a reality for everyone in Hawaiʻi,” said Gov. Green.
“This moment is a new beginning for our state, and I am honored to serve as your governor for the next four years,” he said.