Abercrombie needs to get past the bombast on homelessness

Returning to our lively discussion on homelessness from the other day, I thought the dedication of the Weinberg Foundation project in Waianae with 30 long-term townhouses and 20 transitional studios for low-income residents pointed up the challenge.

This is a good project. Lack of affordable housing is the root problem for most of Hawai‘i’s homeless, and building more housing that fits their needs is the single most important thing we can do.

But then Gov. Neil Abercrombie started talking, and his typical bombast threw up a lot of smoke without getting us any closer to a solution.

“Everything is going to change,” he declared. “We are going to end homelessness in the state. It’s a crime against humanity — this is Hawaii, this is paradise, there will be no homelessness in Hawaii.”

Calling it a crime suggests there are criminals at work, and I wonder who he thinks they might be.

Nobody set out with an intent to render thousands of people homeless; it just happened as a result of a sinking island economy that produces high housing prices and relatively low-paying jobs, and nobody came up with an effective way to stem the tide.

If the governor is pointing fingers, he’s been in high public office for more than 35 years and hasn’t exactly been at the forefront of finding solutions to homelessness.

The second part of his statement is another Abercrombie trademark — repeatedly making sweeping promises before doing anything to show progress, giving him a growing reputation of being all talk and no action.

All he’s done so far is announce a 90-day plan that hasn’t been particularly well received and seems more about getting the homeless out of the way for APEC than enacting long-term solutions.

Ending homelessness is a noble goal and it’ll be a major feather in Abercrombie’s cap if he pulls it off, but it’s easier said than done.

The Lingle administration sincerely thought that homelessness could be ended in 10 years and put serious effort into building shelters and transitional housing, but left office without making much of a dent in a stubborn problem.

Abercrombie’s own homelessness coordinator Marc Alexander admits that the path to a broad solution is not yet clear.

With that in mind, Abercrombie would well advised to tone down the sweeping indictments and inflated promises until he has some actual progress to report.

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8 Comments on “Abercrombie needs to get past the bombast on homelessness”

  1. MynahBlog Says:

    Dave, do I detect a smidge of buyer’s remorse?

  2. Kolea Says:

    I think the “bombast” here is meant to create the impression he is on the side of social justice, even as his actions suggest a determination to “deal with the problem” by rounding people up and driving them underground in time for the arrival of the high muckymucks for the APEC conference.

    It may LOOK heartless, but since we know he is passionately determined to EVENTUALLY eradicate homelessness, we are encouraged to give him a pass for acting like a brute.

  3. Richard Gozinya Says:

    If we eliminated homelessness a whole lot of people would be out of work which would contribute to a rising number of homeless. Really. There’s a lot to be said for spinning a problem rather than solving it. That’s pretty near the business case for consulting by the way.

    When somebody says the goal is to “eliminate homelessness” you can be sure that is weasel-speak. A fair share of the homeless are homeless by choice – how does one eliminate that element? Like prostitution, homelessness will never be eliminated, but it can be managed. The Gov, as chief executive, must be first and foremost a manager.

    Set a reasonable target for how much the homeless population can be reduced. Set up and FUND programs to manage homelessness; not a crusade to wipe it out.

  4. WooWoo Says:

    I have been cautiously optimistic about Abercrombie, but my optimism is fading. I think he has some talented people working for him, but he is disappointing me.

  5. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    For those of you who really are interested in taking on the challenges of reducing SIGNIFICANTLY the number of homeless individuals and families, please take the time to get involved rather than just posting on blogs.

    I can help you with doing this in several different ways. For starters, please get involved with Faith Action and Community Equity through your own faith community and the Family Promise program. If you aren’t particularly religious, volunteer to help people become literate – basic reading, writing, math, and computer skills. Volunteer to become a Big Brother or Big Sister or to coach youth sports or to provide parenting skills or to pick up the cost of a couple of haircuts at one of the cosmetology schools or to do basic repairs at various public housing facilities. About 400 units are currently vacant and the lack of funding to do repairs keeps them vacant.

    There are lots of ways to get involved.. Obviously, Neil won’t be doing this, but why not you?

  6. David Says:

    The Hawaii economy of high housing prices and low wages is what decades of rule by the Demorepublicratans has given us. Abercrombie and the other Demorepublicratans are the problem! Vote NO INCUMBENTS!

  7. hugh clark Says:

    The first step, be it Lindy or Neil, is tro recognize that a fairly good chunk of homeless folks want to live outdoors for whatever reason — ex-war vets, bad parenting or a desire to not be confined by walls. I think a good survey woukd show a third or more would not accept traditional housing. Look at the Kings Landing squatters on DHHL property outside Hilo as an example.

    There is a need to renew mentak heakth services to assist the disoriented. Many homeless folks would have been admitted to temporary or permanent mental health centers in the past — before Reagan pushed them onto the street as a cost savings to rich California taxpayers.

  8. WooWoo Says:

    The mental health issue is a big one. I object to the lazy dump of the issue on to Reagan. It is a difficult issue with no clear answers. In the 60s and 70s, if you walked the streets soiled in your own feces, they locked you up in a mental institution. Today, if the same person is not doing any physical harm to anyone, the state has no legal right to say that you can’t walk around smelling like sewage. There is a lot of merit to the argument that the state should only have a very narrow ability to institutionalize people (for public safety). Just because they bother us is not good enough. Unfortunately, that leaves a lot of people on the streets that could use mental health services but will not accept them.

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