GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Central Union Church on Punahou Street took in 22 homeless last night from the rain, giving them a hot meal and a dry place to sit and bed down.
Forum brainstorms strategies to help needy
Recent evictions place new emphasis on the state problem
To the Rev. Bob Nakata, a former state lawmaker and pastor at Kahaluu United Methodist Church, the recent nighttime closure of Ala Moana Beach Park that forced the relocation of dozens of homeless did more than just bring attention to the problem.
"I think it's done a lot to put a face on it," Nakata said, who repeated sentiments of many who say they believe there has been a new focus on addressing homelessness in Hawaii.
"I think there's a galvanizing going on," Nakata added. "Things were already moving together, but that (Ala Moana) gave it a tip."
The coming together of social service providers was on display yesterday.
Nakata was among roughly 100 representatives from homeless advocate groups convened by the Lingle administration for a two-hour meeting to discuss strategies for ending homelessness in Hawaii.
Gov. Linda Lingle stressed taking an approach that included providing services, such as medical coverage, education and job training, over simply putting a roof over someone's head.
"Our overall goal should not be to house homeless people," she said. "Our goal should be to end homelessness, and you can't do that just warehousing people. ... It's never going to get to the heart of the problem."
Many focused on promoting partnerships among different agencies that might specialize in certain types of service.
"We're recognizing that we need to partner together," said Jason Gill, of the Salvation Army Maui.
Other proposed solutions included:
» Setting up "one-stop" centers, where homeless people could go to get in touch with representatives from all social service providers.
» Trying to obtain surplus supplies, such as beds and other furniture, that are unused by local military installations.
» Having churches provide space, when available, for the homeless and help with getting them in touch with service providers.
» Establishing programs to help people who are being discharged from prison, foster care and other such facilities, to ensure that they have support once they leave such facilities.
Lingle said she was encouraged by the wealth of ideas, noting that the state's budget surplus should assist in getting help to where it is needed. Lingle requested $20 million for homeless shelters and services in her supplemental budget request to the Legislature.
"We're going to have some new resources available, and we want to deploy them as quickly as we can, as effectively as we can," she said.
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Dean Vestal of Central Union Church read the ground rules last night for overnight admission of 22 homeless people to the church.
While officials said the summit was planned months ago, it came the same day that about 40 homeless families were driven from a beach park at Kahului Harbor on Maui.
Earlier this week, the City and County of Honolulu began closing Ala Moana Beach Park at night in preparation for major renovations, a move that forced dozens of homeless to relocate.
In response, Mayor Mufi Hannemann opened up the grassy area near Honolulu Police Department headquarters as a place where the homeless could stay at night on the condition that they clear out each morning.
Lingle said that because of the recent wet weather, she might have delayed closing the park so soon, but said she understands the challenge facing the city.
"One thing I don't believe in is turning over public parks to the homeless," Lingle said. "When I was a mayor (on Maui), I went through the same exercise where people started to believe they had a right to actually be in the park, that that was theirs.
"Of course, it's not. It's for the general public so families can go and enjoy the park."
She said her administration tried to help by having service providers set up tables at the beach park.
"I think any time you move people out of a public park, I think it's important that you have services," she said. "I know how we did it, and it was in a humane, compassionate way."
Hannemann agreed with Nakata that this week's events pertaining to the homeless have brought greater attention to the homeless situation.
"I believe in many ways the action that we took as negative as it might have been to some people that were affected, I think it's going to serve as a catalyzing effect on the state and the nonprofit groups and the community volunteers in general to come forward and recognize that we all have be part of the solution," said the mayor, who sent a delegation to the governor's meeting.
But, he also said, the state must take the lead in coming up with solutions and letting the counties know how they can assist.
Star-Bulletin reporter Crystal Kua contributed to this report.