Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Remember 9-11-01

Packed meeting
calls for more aid

Stimulus package won't help
those most in need, social
services agencies say

By Lyn Danninger

s More help is needed from government if Hawaii's already strained health and human safety net is to provide for the growing number of needy residents, representatives from social services agencies told legislators yesterday.

A standing-room-only crowd packed a special meeting called by Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland (D-Palama-Alewa Heights), Rep. Dennis Arakaki (D, Kamehameha Heights-Kalihi Valley) and Rep. Michael Kahikina (D, Barbers Points-Nanakuli-Maili-Waianae).

The three called the meeting to address what they see as shortcomings in proposed legislation for the upcoming special session scheduled to begin next week. Presenters included representatives from the state, social service nonprofit agencies and churches.

Hawaii Foodbank President Dick Grimm said a state grant of about $350,000 to $400,000 would carry the program through the end of the year.

While food donations continue to come in, the need is growing. About 60 percent more food is now required compared to July, he said. Currently the Foodbank is distributing 32,000 pounds of food a day, Grimm said.

For the Aloha United Way, which is looking at 15 percent drop in contributions, representatives said there are three categories where more help is needed: basic needs such as food and shelter, mental health services and family support in areas such as childcare.

Kathy Hasegawa, representative for the Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance, noted that most homeless shelters on Oahu are already full. At least 596 people on Oahu's leeward side are homeless and around 90 to 100 people already live at Ala Moana Park, she said.

Given the current situation, those numbers are likely to grow, she said.

"By early winter, hundreds of families will be living on beaches, in parks and cars," she said.

Suggestions from various agencies, government representatives and individuals included:

>> Ask counties to be more lenient about allowing the homeless to sleep on beaches until a legislative solution can be worked out.

>> Use unoccupied hotel rooms as temporary shelters for those unable to pay rent and at risk of being evicted.

>> Invest in health and human services agencies so they can become employers. Jobs and training are available for the unemployed if the state would allocate some of the funds now slated for construction projects and expand purchase of service contracts for health and human services, advocates say.

Increasing state investment would also enable agencies to attract matching federal and private funding.

>> Meet emerging social service needs in elderly care, public health and behavioral health. Many jobs could be created now that would address future state needs.

>> Provide jobs on public projects such as beach, trail and dengue-fever related clean-ups.

>> Increase eligibility and streamline paperwork involved with obtaining various forms of public assistance including rental subsidies, food stamps and housing vouchers.

>> Repair public housing projects. Many buildings are in disrepair, some so bad they are slated to be closed.

>> Offer incentives to developers for more affordable housing projects.

>> Give government the authority to expedite projects.

>> Make health insurance available to those not covered.

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