Use Kakaako program as model for helping homeless people
The state has opened a facility for the homeless evicted from Ala Moana park.
STATE and city officials can exchange criticism about treatment of homeless people all they want, but the fact is that neither seems to respond to the persistent and growing problem until there is a crisis.
A nighttime-only shelter the state has opened in a Kakaako warehouse will help people the city recently evicted from Ala Moana Beach Park, at least temporarily.
However, a blueprint for a permanent program to provide aid and services could emerge from the interim set-up, particularly since the Legislature has directed more money toward affordable housing, homeless programs and shelters.
A warehouse isn't ideal for housing, but the state's arrangements with nonprofit groups for social services, health care and meals could form the model for a transitional center where people can get the support they need to get back on their feet.
Last month the city closed the park at nights, ostensibly to prepare for renovations that would follow a weekend of centennial celebrations. About 200 people living at the park were told to leave, but protests from advocates and the homeless at City Hall created a public relations nightmare for the Hannemann administration.
Though city officials allowed people to camp out near the main police station, most of them chose to go to two churches, Central Union and Kawaiahao, that generously offered food and a roof over their heads temporarily.
A lack of shelters has been a long-standing dilemma in Hawaii and as more people -- through circumstances or choice -- began living in public spaces, others troubled by their presence have complained. Also, authorities have been clearing people from parks, beaches and even under freeways.
Governor Lingle chided city officials this week, saying the way the city handled the homeless at Ala Moana showed "no compassion whatsoever." Mayor Hannemann's spokesman responded that the state might never have done anything about the problem had the city not closed the park.
Lingle's criticism is valid, but the city has few resources to deal with the problem, although had the City Council adopted a transitional housing plan proposed by former Mayor Harris two years ago, the city might have been in a position to help.
The state's stepping in showed what can be accomplished and officials, workers and community groups who fixed up the warehouse should be commended for their efforts. The task now is to transform the temporary program into one with lasting effects because there are thousands more without homes crowding parks across the state.