Government has role in reducing homelessness
About 200 homeless people have been evicted from Ala Moana Beach Park to make way for repairs and maintenance.
INTENDED or not, Mayor Hannemann's decision to close overnight use of Ala Moana Beach Park
has focused attention on the plight of the homeless. More than 200 homeless people were driven from the park just as Governor Lingle was preparing for a summit on the issue. Lingle, Hannemann and most people agree that public parks should not be turned over to the homeless.
The question is where the homeless should turn, and government has the obligation to find an answer. Lingle says the goal "should not be to house the homeless people" but "to end homelessness, and you can't do that just warehousing people." However, Lingle recognizes that the homeless have been a perennial element of society, and shelters should be part of the solution for those who are mentally ill.
Hannemann provided some temporary relief for those driven from Ala Moana, opening a grassy area near Honolulu Police Department headquarters while the park is shut down for most of this month for repairs and maintenance. Four people were arrested after setting up camp at the park next to city hall in protest of the eviction.
However, the park closure from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. might become permanent. "We are taking back our parks for our families, children and park users," Lester Chang, the city parks director, said in announcing the closure.
The park closure coincided with the eviction of about 40 families at Kahului Harbor on Maui, where Lingle said she, as mayor, "went through the same exercise where people started to believe they had a right to actually be in the park, that that was theirs."
Hawaii's homeless are estimated to number 6,000, and most are living in shelters. Lingle says her administration will spend $10 million to repair and maintain shelters and add more beds. That effort should proceed without delay.
Hawaii's unemployment rate of less than 3 percent means anyone able and willing to work is employed. About one-fourth of the homeless have jobs but are unable to find affordable housing. Many of the federally funded affordable units are undergoing repair. Completion of that work would help reduce the number of working homeless.
Among the suggestions raised by homeless advocacy groups at Thursday's summit was setting up "one stop" centers for assistance, finding surplus beds that go unused by the military and asking churches to provide space to the homeless.
Central Union Church in Makiki took in about 30 people who were kicked out of Ala Moana Beach Park. However, that is only for one week, and the Rev. Don Hammond said the needs of the homeless "are significant and beyond the ability of any congregation or groups of congregations to resolve." That is government's role.