Posted tagged ‘homelessness’

Do my eyes deceive me on Waikiki homeless?

September 13, 2011

I made a few trips to Waikiki last week and found the homeless far less visible than my last visit in checks from the Elks Club end of Kapiolani Park through Ala Moana Park.

I’ve also noticed fewer homeless in once-popular areas in Kakaako.

I’ll take it as a sign that Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s homelessness initiative is making progress, although there’s cause for some wariness from reports that the Waikiki homeless are moving into abandoned properties.

The administration reported getting more than 400 people statewide off of the streets and into shelters or transitional and permanent housing in the initial 90 days of its initiative, which is a significant start in so short a time.

There’s been some suspicion that it’s mainly an attempt to clean up Waikiki and the city core for the APEC conference, but the governor and his homelessness coordinator Marc Alexander have earned credit for more commitment than that just from their willingness to set goals and accept accountability for the results.

They’ve developed some sound strategies, such as fixing public housing units that are vacant because of disrepair, identifying sub-groups of homeless and their special needs and getting public and private agencies that work with the homeless on the same page and directed toward best practices.

It’s encouraging that the liberal administration is willing to adopt tough love approaches when appropriate, such as discouraging charitable groups from feeding the homeless on the beaches and instead directing them to shelters where they can get more help than just food.

One of the first and most valuable management lessons I learned is that you never let anybody get comfortable in a bad situation that’s detrimental to both the individual and the larger community.

It’s fair to ask what society is doing to help our fellow citizens who are homeless, but it’s also fair to ask what the homeless who are capable of helping themselves are doing about it.

Those who shun available shelter space and claim the right to freely live on prime beachfront park lands and other public property because they don’t like the rules the rest of us have to follow deserve little slack.


Abercrombie ups the stakes on homelessness

July 27, 2011

Progress has been painfully slow in Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s high-profile battle to end homelessness in Hawai‘i, but give him credit for continuing to hack away at the problem and increase his personal accountability.

A state phone line set up for citizens to report homeless people in need of services drew some derision when few useful calls came in.

Some religious groups doggedly resisted the call of the governor and his homelessness czar Marc Alexander to stop feeding programs in the parks and instead move meal services to the shelters where the homeless can receive other help as well.

And at the halfway point of Abercrombie’s 90-day homelessness initiative, an unimpressive report card had just slightly more than 100 of Hawai‘i’s thousands of homeless helped off the streets.

Undaunted, the governor has now formally created a Hawai’i Interagency Council on Homelessness to bring together representatives from state, county and federal agencies and the private sector to coordinate social services for the homeless, increase transitional and permanent housing, pursue more federal funding and replicate successful initiatives in other states.

Abercrombie will chair the panel himself, putting his own neck on the line politically if the results don’t match the high expectations he’s set.

The latest move gets beyond the official urgency to do something to get the homeless off O‘ahu streets before the APEC meeting in November and reinforces the idea that solving the thorny problem of homelessness is more of a marathon than a sprint.

While the governor looks to the long term, state Reps. John Mizuno and Rida Cabanilla are calling their Human Services and Housing committees together Thursday to look specifically at issues surrounding APEC and the homeless.

A specific item on the agenda at 10 a.m. in Capitol conference room 329 is creating safe zones for the homeless around the island.

It’s always an adventure when Mizuno and Cabanilla get their heads together, but safe zones are worth considering on at least a temporary basis.  We can’t keep telling the homeless where they can’t go without giving them someplace they can go.

City’s spinelessness on bus shelter stinks

July 15, 2011

I can’t stop shaking my head over an excellent story by KITV’s Keoki Kerr about the city’s decision to temporarily move a bus stop on Kapiolani Boulevard across from Nordstrom to avoid dealing with a foul-smelling homeless woman who has been living at the shelter for a year.

You really should see the whole piece, but the gist is that the elderly woman and her belongings smell so bad that those waiting at the stop and catching the waft on the buses can no longer bear it.

Instead of finding a way to remove the woman, the city closed the stop and opened a temporary one down the street, leaving those waiting for buses to stand in the elements while a single person enjoys the comfort of the shelter.

City Transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka told KITV that homeless people have the same rights to use the streets and sidewalks as anybody else, and it’s not illegal to squat at bus shelters. He said the city is showing compassion.

How is it possibly legal for one person to monopolize a public facility for other than its intended purpose while denying its use to the taxpaying public for its intended purpose? How is defacing city property with filth and odor any better than defacing it with graffiti?

These shelters cost millions of dollars to construct and are funded from the property taxes of folks who pay thousands of dollars a month for their own housing. And they can’t use the public structures they’ve built?

People have no right to squat wherever they please when it intrudes on the rights of others to make reasonable use of public property, and the city’s weak-kneed response is an open invitation to the homeless to take over every bus shelter in town.

Finally, how is it possibly compassionate to leave this poor woman sitting in her own horrible stink from God-knows-what bacteria instead of getting her cleaned up, properly fed and provided with the other help she obviously needs?

Going to such extremes to look the other way is an abrogation of our most basic responsibilities to our fellow human beings.

Abercrombie needs to get past the bombast on homelessness

June 9, 2011

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.

Homeless plan or security sweep?

June 7, 2011

Stories in the local media about Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s 90-day homeless plan have mentioned the timing in relation to the November APEC conference, but have allowed for the possibility of loftier goals than removing the homeless from the view plane of Barack Obama and other world leaders.

Not so most of the stories circulating in the mainland media. The AP story that ran in the Washington Post and other major media laid the homelessness initiative directly at the doorstep of APEC:

HONOLULU — The laid-back tropical paradise seen in postcards and tourists’ photos of Hawaii has a less pleasant flipside: homeless people sleeping in tents near Waikiki Beach, men splayed out next to public bathrooms, drug addicts and drunks loitering at an oceanside park.

With President Barack Obama hosting a major Asia-Pacific economic summit in Honolulu in November — one that will draw dozens of heads of state and focus international attention on the tourist mecca — state leaders have begun pressing for solutions to solve a homelessness problem that’s as deeply entrenched in Hawaii as nearly anywhere in the country.

Abercrombie was quoted as saying it’s a “happy coincidence” that the plan will move many of the homeless out of Waikiki and the main city corridor before APEC.

Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz mentioned a moral obligation to help the homeless, but admitted APEC is a “handy deadline” to show some progress.

Mayor Peter Carlisle said the added police and security forces for the conference will be keeping a special eye on the homeless.

“Some of them are violent, some of them are mentally ill, some are so intoxicated you can’t roust ‘em,” he said. “And that’s something we simply just can’t tolerate during this particular period of time.”

The question is whether it’s motivation that really matters or results.

If the homeless are moved only temporarily out of Waikiki and the central city — or pushed to other locations where they’re just a problem for someone else — the program will be a disgrace by any measure.

But if the sweep finds actual solutions and services for a fair number of homeless and gets them into better situations for themselves and the community, do we really care what motivated the timing?

Abercrombie thinks outside the collar

January 21, 2011

We always knew that Gov. Neil Abercrombie would likely be full of more surprises than previous Hawai‘i governors, and he demonstrated it with his appointment of the Rev. Marc Alexander as his homelessness coordinator.

Alexander, who is stepping down from the No. 2 position in the local Catholic church to take the job, has been a prominent voice in the church’s fervent opposition to gay unions, the issue where the sun rises and sets for many of Abercrombie’s core supporters in the Democratic Party.

It’ll be interesting to see if they’re willing to look past single-issue passions and see what Abercrombie does — that Alexander’s background and skill set, especially in strategic planning, may make him uniquely qualified to tackle one of Hawai‘i’s most painful and stubborn problems.

Who knows what to read into the rather ungracious reaction from Hawai‘i Catholic Bishop Larry Silva that he “was shocked and extremely disappointed by (Alexander’s) decision to withdraw from priestly ministry.”

Helping the homeless seems a noble enough calling.

For Abercrombie, it shows not only that he’s willing to bring diverse talent into his administration, but that he’s succeeding in attracting some unlikely allies to help implement his vision for Hawai‘i.

Update: An initial reaction from the Democrats’ LGBT wing in today’s Star-Advertiser:

“One has to question whether he will be effective in counseling runaway gay youth,” said Jo-Ann Adams, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Hawaii’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender caucus. “Many of the (homeless) people here are thrown out of their homes when their parents find out that they are gay.”

Somehow, that doesn’t strike me as where the heart of the homelessness problem lies.

If you’re not ending the week brain dead enough, I leave you to wrap your mind around this posting I found from Keith Haugen on Facebook:

This year we will experience 4 unusual dates…. 1/1/11, 1/11/11, 11/1/11, 11/11/11 …. NOW go figure this out…. take the last 2 digits of the year you were born plus the age you will be this year and it WILL EQUAL TO 111… It works for everyone…

Vagrant rights trump safe sidewalk passage

October 7, 2010

It’s unbelievable that we don’t have laws on the books to allow police to move out vagrants who obstruct city sidewalks by setting up makeshift encampments, but apparently we don’t and the City Council is trying to remedy that.

A bill that passed the Public Infrastructure Committee and will go before the full council later this month would create an 8-foot-wide sidewalk use zone for pedestrians from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. — later in Waikiki.

It seems a reasonable measure modeled after a Portland law that has passed legal muster, but naturally it’s opposed by the local ACLU in its unending battle to enable squatters who claim the right to game the system and pitch their tents wherever they please on public property.

It’s a no-brainer that public sidewalks should be kept clear for their intended purpose of allowing citizens to move safely from one place to another, and it’s maddening that we even need to have this discussion.

The city has taken the dubious position that it’s powerless to act under existing law as long as the sidewalk isn’t completely blocked and pedestrians can squeeze by.

That’s troublesome for everybody, but especially hazardous for those of us who are disabled and use wheelchairs, walkers and motorized scooters; we pretty much need the whole sidewalk to pass safely, as well as a little elbow room on the sides.

ACLU lawyers who are so protective of the rights of vagrants to obstruct public property should try taking a wheelchair into traffic on Kapiolani Boulevard because the sidewalk is impassable.

A timely idea on the homeless

July 15, 2010

You never know where an excellent idea might come from, but I applaud Reps. Tom Brower, John Mizuno and Rida Cabanilla for their renewed push to create “safe zones” for homeless campers evicted from parks and beaches.

We can’t keep telling the homeless where they can’t be without providing someplace they can be.

According to the Star-Advertiser, Brower, Mizuno and Cabanilla figure an outdoor safe area with restrooms and lockers to store belongings would cost $100,000 — less if the state solicited private donations.

It’s a small fraction of what brick-and-mortar shelters cost, and would have a better chance of attracting the hardcore homeless who won’t go to shelters because they don’t like the rules and restrictions on their movements.

If there was a safe place for them to go to, we could crack down hard on campers in inappropriate places such as Kapiolani Park with a clear conscience.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann said he would support the idea if there were enforceable rules to prevent threats to the public health and safety. The safe zones could dovetail with the mayor’s newly announced plan to clean up homeless camping in public spaces.

Safe zones are by no means the long-term solution to homelessness, but they would ease some of the current tension and make it easier for agencies to help those in need while we work on the underlying causes.

A resolution to explore safe zones passed the House last session, but was opposed by the Lingle administration and didn’t get a hearing in the Senate.

“We have to do something,” Brower said. “This is a time to look at ideas because there are no easy solutions.”

Legislators scheduled a briefing on Hawaii’s “chronically homeless” at 10 a.m. Thursday in Capitol Conference Room 325.

Hannemann-Lingle homeless tango gets tiresome

July 1, 2010

Continuing with homelessness, it was disappointing to see Mayor Mufi Hannemann and the Lingle administration  wasting precious energy needed to solve this problem with more bickering over who deserves credit and who deserves blame.

The mayor held a well-attended forum on homelessness this week, offending Lingle’s people who thought it was a campaign stunt aimed at obscuring what they see as a callous disregard for the homeless by Hannemann.

You can read the he said/she said here if you care to, but suffice it to say that both sides need to roll up their sleeves more before there’s any political boasting to be done about solving homelessness in Hawai’i.

Hannemann got off to a bad start  in 2006 when he cruelly and abruptly kicked 200 homeless out of Ala Moana Park with no place else to go to keep them from blighting a centennial bash he planned at Magic Island.

When many of them showed up at city hall to protest, wrongful arrests were made and the city ultimately had to pay $65,250 in settlements.

Once in damage-control mode, Hannemann ridiculously claimed that he booted the homeless from Ala Moana to force the state into action to help them.

To his credit, Hannemann learned from the mistake and in subsequent homeless evictions from Waianae Coast beaches, the city gave ample notice and did a better job of coordinating with social service agencies to help those displaced.

But his continuing claims that homelessness is the state’s problem when 80 percent of the state’s homeless are in his city is unproductive and an argument that few other U.S. mayors would try to get away with.

Lingle didn’t need any prodding from Hannemann’s Ala Moana fiasco to get busy on homelessness; she had already bought heavily into the Bush administration’s ambitious plan to end homelessness in a decade.

The governor built short-term shelters and longer-term housing for the homeless in Kakaako, Waianae and Kalaeloa, but ending homelessness proved more challenging than she expected and the effort seemed to run out of gas in the recession.

At this point, the governor, mayor and Legislature all seem to have the best of intentions for the homeless, but what’s frustrating is the constant political jousting and the potential progress that’s been lost because of their failure to work together.

These are state legislators?

June 30, 2010

I remember covering O’ahu District Court in the late 1960s when haole hippies brought in on marijuana busts would be offered an opportunity by the judge to have charges dropped if they got on a plane back to the Mainland by midnight.

It’s like deja vu all over again with the move in the Legislature led by Reps. John Mizuno and Rida Cabanilla to establish a  $100,000 “family reunification” fund to give homeless people from the Mainland one-way tickets back to where they came from.

The measure failed in the Legislature last session, but Mizuno and Cabanilla were grandstanding on its behalf this week, with Mizuno putting up $100 to help send a homeless man back to Seattle and urging others to contribute to the cause.

John Fox, director of the Seattle Displacement Coalition, was incredulous that Hawai’i is trying to export its homeless, according to a story in the Star-Advertiser by Dan Nakaso.

“You hear the occasional story of some small reactionary community somewhere wanting to put homeless people on buses,” Fox said. “But I’ve never met or run into any homeless person or service provider who has assumed something like this has actually happened before.”

Of Mizuno and Cabanilla, he said,  “These are state legislators?”

There might be legitimate cases where social service providers would feel the best way to help a homeless person is to help him get home, but to make it official state policy to dump our homeless elsewhere would be another national disgrace for Hawai’i.

No doubt there are vagrants from the Mainland who come here to take advantage of our social services and balmy weather, but it’s a myth that they make up a substantial number of our more than 4,000 homeless on O’ahu, the vast majority of whom are homegrown.

Focusing so much attention on the relatively small number of homeless who are recent Mainland transplants distracts from the real challenge of finding ways to help local citizens who are often physically or mentally ill, down on their luck or drug-addicted.

I have further thoughts on homelessness in my column in today’s Star-Advertiser: “It’s time to focus on finding where the homeless can live.”

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