Thursday, September 18, 2008

Homelessness on Oahu

Earlier today, I testified before the Hawaii Housing Authority on the issue of homelessness in our city. The following is an expanded version of what I stated at that meeting.

As an 18+ year resident on Oahu and a candidate for mayor, I am alarmed by the homelessness issue and its impact on our people, our tourists, our parks and our beaches.

The Kapiolani "tent park" is only the beginning. A shrinking economy, reduced tourism and large anticipated cuts in both public and private budgets have the potential to make this an explosive issue which will stress service providers at all levels.

There are many causes to homelessness, including cost of living, low pay, unemployment, housing affordability, mental health, drugs, and, for a few, a life style choice of permanent camping.

There are several services and solutions, including priority housing for single parents, cubicles, camps or areas with facilities for sleeping in a car, other temporary accommodations, physical and mental health treatment, affordable housing and other public housing.

There are many agencies involved and service providers such as:
  • Hawaii Housing Authority
  • Partners in Care
  • HUD such as Community Development Block Grant
  • other Federal assistance
  • City Council and Mayor
  • State Department of Health
  • Police Department
  • Aloha United Way and Foodbank Hawaii
  • Churches and several other advocates
Therefore, a County Unit on Homelessness is necessary to coordinate and consolidate all these activities and offerings.

Homelessness is a multi-issue, multi-solution and multi-fragmented challenge. Some of the issues and positive directions include the following:
  • City cooperation with state is lacking; and city is going out of the affordable housing service at the worse possible time.
  • The city has not cooperated by providing warning of evictions thus putting responding agencies and volunteers in sudden crises.
  • Last year a bill proposed a 20 million allocation for a downtown homeless center but city administration never showed up to support it.
  • Public private partnerships for affordable housing development and management work. We should do more of them and apply proper controls.
  • The state should take a serious look on sustainable lease. It will likely work well for low income families. (A sustainable lease is a leasehold arrangement that maintains property in an affordable price range.)
  • There are complaints that several people residing in public housing own new vehicles that are worth well over $40,000 dollars. Why are their owners in subsidized public housing ?
  • There are concerns that the development of public housing and free sleeping quarters sometimes act as incentives for local and in-migrating homelessness. So you are balancing on a tight rope.
A major crisis is looming with the downturn in economy, the closure of homeless centers such as the recent one in Waihiawa, and the Next Step 151-cubicle unit provided by the state will close this year. Although it may sound counterintuitive at first, it is essential to increase the budget and coordinate the response to the homeless issue so that it remains at a manageable level.

To this end, for the interim, the city, in cooperation with the state should:
  • identify vacant lots and specific areas in some public parks and
  • develop a homeless camping permit much like the regular camping permit.
The advantages of a homeless permit are that:
  • It designates specific places and periods.
  • Assisting agencies will know where each individual is located.
  • If the police are called, the homeless campers can show their permit.
  • Maintenance on parks will be easier due to a manageable number of people at each site.
  • The permit will have an expiration date which can be renewed.
This permit process would be a proactive approach to homelessness making it measurable, tractable and manageable.


Anonymous said...

I am visiting your beutiful island for the first time. I was shocked to see so many homeless living on the beaches. Even more shocked to see small children living in the conditions being unsafe and unclean. This would be a human service issue in my state.

Anonymous said...

The times are changing, the world is changing, and there are lots of people who just want to be able to live in this world which is difficult with
society's demands of money, greed and power. It is a disservice to humanity to assume that you know another's thoughts, morals and ethics. Walk in another man's shoes. Permanent camping is a lifestyle choice made by those who do not want to feed the hungry machine humanity has created. We are not degenerates, vandals, drug addicts, we are people who want to be allowed to live. We seek shelter that does not cost more money than we could afford in a lifetime. We seek a relationship of unity with the earth and with man. Judge not, lest you be judged.