Thursday, March 3, 2005


Chasing away the homeless
a vain and temporary effort


State and city authorities have resumed evictions of homeless people from parks and beaches.

THE periodic exercises in futility continue today as city and state authorities roust the homeless from tents and tarps in Waianae as they have done at various locations around Oahu in the past few weeks.

Everyone -- police, politicians, the people who are scattered and those who have complained about them -- fully acknowledges that the sweeps are merely a temporary fix. Yet the practice persists while real solutions are deferred and deferred again.

The powers that be have discussed, debated and studied the problem of homelessness for years, but little is done to provide relief. In the past, a wobbling economy, a lack of revenue and other needs have pushed the problem into legislative shadows, even as more punitive measures have been put in place.

Among the most offensive is the law that allows police to arrest a homeless person who returns to a public location less than a year after being told to go away. Other actions such as placing barbed wire under highway viaducts where the homeless seek shelter and routinely confiscating their belongings from parks were counted in a national group's ranking of Honolulu as ninth on the list of the "meanest cities" in America.

While the ranking can be shrugged off as just a fleeting blemish on Hawaii's image as the "Aloha state," it should touch our conscience. It should spur action, not just more hand-wringing and talk.

Governor Lingle has proposed using state land to build affordable housing, and an omnibus bill to create rental units, set up homeless programs and help more people qualify for low-cost housing is making its way through the Legislature.

Both are good starts, but in the meantime, authorities persist in purging beaches and parks of the homeless.

Officials realize this is fruitless. They know that the people will return, but when complaints from nearby residents reach critical mass, they are forced to act.

Some homeless people have problems with drug addiction or mental illness while a few elect to live rootlessly. However, most want a roof over their heads, but the shortage of housing fueled by a growing economy have put a place to call home far beyond their reach. As one rousted camper said, "We're not poor." She explained that her family just can't afford today's high rental prices.

As the legislative process grinds slowly forward, state and city authorities should consider designating a few parks or other public lands as shelters, providing facilities to ensure health and safety. At the least, this would eliminate the useless sweeps and waste of resources. Agencies that offer help would be able to do so more easily, and the homeless would have a small measure of stability.

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