Faith groups and Lingle to discuss homeless
Some with no home say they should have been invited to the closed meeting
The governor will meet with 20 faith-based groups today to discuss possible short-term shelter options for the more than 200 homeless people who were displaced last month when the city started closing Ala Moana Regional Park at night.
The invitation-only gathering is also aimed at brainstorming long-term solutions to reduce homelessness in the islands and increase the state's affordable-housing inventory.
But a group of homeless who have been staying at Kawaiaha'o Church since March 27 say they and other homeless people should have been asked to attend the governor's meeting.
"We want to be heard. We want to try to work with the government. If they want to make a decision on where they might put us, it would be nice to have a little input on that," said Rudy Peralta, an Ohana O Hawaii council member. "This is supposed to be a democracy at work."
The group plans to hold a news conference outside the governor's office today to air its concerns.
Russell Pang, a spokesman for Gov. Linda Lingle, said no homeless were invited to the meeting because it "was meant to be focused on the base groups that are providing the actual services to the homeless." He pointed out that Lingle met several homeless people at a conference on March 30.
"The governor felt that it would be helpful to reach out to more faith-based groups ... especially since we saw these were the groups that stepped up," Pang said. "The governor will be exploring how the state can work with these groups."
He added that the governor would not be averse to meeting with the homeless or advocates in the future.
Meanwhile, Ohana O Hawaii members and homeless advocates are expected to meet with the city's managing director tomorrow, the group said yesterday.
Religious leaders who were asked to attend the governor's meeting at 10 this morning say they are not sure what its focus will be, but they have plenty of requests to make.
Chief among their concerns, they say, is where the homeless who were thrown out of Ala Moana Park last month will move to on Sunday, when both Kawaiaha'o and Central Union churches plan to shut down their makeshift shelters.
The Rev. Bob Nakata of Solidarity for the Homeless said he wants the governor to temporarily set aside a portion of Sand Island State Park for the homeless. Other homeless advocates have also supported the plan, as long as bus service is provided.
"That's a park that's not used as much," said John Heidel, president of Interfaith Alliance Hawaii, who will also attend the meeting. "It's not as much in the public eye."
Heidel also said he would be asking the governor to release more money for homeless supportive housing, and will suggest that a fund be established to provide first and last months' rent for homeless trying to get into homes.
Ultimately, he said, the state needs to analyze and work to remedy the state's housing crisis. "We need to address the root causes," he said. "The housing crisis has only gotten worse."
Heidel and Nakata said they are wary of calls from lawmakers for faith-based groups to take a more prominent role in sheltering and feeding the homeless.
They said churches have been working with the state's homeless population long before it became a hot-button issue but are also underfunded and not equipped to offer solutions.
"Obviously, a lot of churches are very much taking a leadership role," Heidel said. "Now it's time for the government to hold up their hands. Let's all do this together."