Homelessness is a city problem, too
MAYOR Hannemann's administration views home- lessness as "not the city's problem." According to him, it's the state's. I just checked, and parks such as those at Nanakuli, Maili, Keau and Waimanalo beaches are still city property. The people living there are residents of Honolulu, whether or not they have a street address.
Being houseless is a symptom, not the problem. Trying to find a one-size-fits-all solution doesn't work. To borrow one of the mayor's favorite sayings, shelter is a "need to have, not a nice to have."
Do we need it? Darn right. Can we afford it? We must. Can we maintain it? If financed properly, maintenance can be paid from the income stream generated by the tenants.
Affordable housing is unavailable -- waiting lists are years long. How can anyone afford market-priced housing when they work jobs that do not pay a livable wage? Minimum-wage work, even for someone working full-time at two jobs, cannot pay the rent on an average apartment, let alone all of the other things people need such as utilities, food and clothing. Forget about a car -- the bus is their wheels because they can't afford car payments, insurance, registration and gas. Add a spouse or a couple of kids to the equation and ... you do the math. Low-income in Hawaii for a family of for is $57,050! How many homeless families earn half that much?
People need a hand up, not a handout. They know what their problems are and should be included in all discussions as well as the development of strategies for solutions. Not having them at the table as equal partners is unacceptable and will not result in long-term solutions. Providing people with housing first, where they can sleep safely and receive services to help them with other problems that have made it difficult or impossible for them to maintain housing in the past, should be the first order of business. How can anyone function well when they are constantly worried about their safety or what happens to their children or possessions while they're off working, job hunting or seeking assistance?
In the meantime, let's stop sticking our collective heads in the sand while we drive by the tent cities. They are there -- let's not ignore them, the people's needs or the needs of the community.
Don't blame the lack of funding or maintenance of our beaches and parks on the homeless. These facilities have been underfunded and undermaintained for years.
Let's make sure the Department of Parks & Recreation has the funding and staff it needs to maintain them as they should be -- in decent, safe and sanitary condition. Bring in large green trash bins so the rubbish doesn't sit around in piles for days. Bring in portable toilets, because the "comfort stations" were not designed to take the load they are currently handling.
Enlist those who must live there temporarily because they have no other options to help in their maintenance. Require adherence of those living there to the laws and rules that apply, such as no open fires, no vehicles on the beach and grass, no illegal activities such as drugs and gambling or violence of any sort.
And finally, get the police to enforce the laws so we all feel safe using the parks.
A Band-Aid isn't going to do it this time. Our communities are hemorrhaging. They need triage, then major surgery, and finally intensive care so they can recover. We can choose to be part of the solution or part of the problem. My choice is obvious. Mr. Mayor, what is yours?
Pat Tompkins is a former city housing department employee who now works in the city Department of Community Services. She lives in Waianae.