City is committed to solving root causes of homelessness
THE media coverage of our island's homeless issue misses the mark. Making this a he-said-she-said issue between two elected officials does not educate the public about the problem or bring light to potential solutions. People without a permanent place of residence and the communities who see the sad day-today realities of families and their children living in our parks deserve so much more.
Homelessness is a multifaceted issue complicated by economic, social and cultural factors. It is a community challenge that has existed for decades with no quick or easy solutions. Real solutions will require everyone working together and using all resources available in our respective jurisdictions to create better futures for people experiencing homelessness. Our goal at the city is to continue to work with everyone as we revitalize our city parks for all citizens.
The city has been and continues to be an active participant in advocacy groups such as Partners In Care and worked in concert with members of this group when the first "plan to end homelessness" was developed.
During Mayor Frank Fasi's administration, there were many initiatives developed to improve the homeless situation on Oahu, especially in the area of providing temporary and transitional shelter. However, under Mayor Jeremy Harris, homelessness was viewed as a criminal issue rather than a human concern.
Through Mayor Mufi Hannemann's leadership and support, the city once again is focusing on homelessness as a human issue. The Department of Community Services began a dialogue with outreach workers starting in the fall of 2005. Through these meetings a consortium was created to develop three Homeless Resource Centers, in Leeward and Windward Oahu and the North Shore. Additionally, DCS, through a federal grant, hired a job resource specialist to develop and implement a work readiness program targeted toward people who are homeless and either lack recent work experience or who might need training before entering the workforce. This program reaches out to people who want to work, but who might need one-on-one support and counseling or paid work experience before being ready to apply for a job.
FURTHERMORE, in recognition of the concerns voiced by the Downtown Task Force, DCS supported the use of a River Street property as a site for a special needs or affordable housing program, a suggestion brought up in the past administration and ignored. Hannemann took on the challenge and committed to finding a way to develop this project to address the concerns being voiced by the community and the advocates.
The city is able to provide this level of support through DCS's aggressive pursuit of federal grants. Millions of dollars each year are awarded to nonprofit organizations throughout our community. We offer rental assistance to people who are economically challenged, grants to organizations that provide shelter and social services to people who are homeless, supportive services to people who are elderly, and workforce development programs for both adults and youth.
However, our role is supportive in nature. We must still rely on the state's Homeless Programs Branch, headed by Sandra Miyoshi, to address the more complex homeless issues. Additionally, the state has designated the departments of Human Services, Health (Adult Mental Health Division and Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division) and other related agencies, such as the newly created Hawaii Public Housing Authority, that are able to "pull down" matching funds from the federal government and have the core resources to provide vital family assistance, mental health services, drug treatment programs and housing -- and which are able to address the root causes of homelessness.
Homelessness, however important an issue, is just one of the concerns of the Hannemann administration. The city has other equally pressing issues and commitments to the people of Oahu. Across the island, we are experiencing what years of neglect have done to our infrastructure. Our sewer system and roadways need major maintenance and repair work.
AS OUR population grows and as our extended families grow, more of us are in search of places to exercise, picnic and simply enjoy living in Hawaii. This is why we have a public city parks system on Oahu. It is the purpose of these city parks to provide recreation for all. The city's parks were never designed or intended for use as anyone's permanent residence, and after years of use, basic park facilities are sorely in need of repair.
We all know that more affordable and special needs housing is one of the key solutions to ending homelessness. However, we are years away from producing the number of units needed to meet the demand -- and do we live in a society that is willing to have taxes increased so that all homeless people can have roofs over their heads?
These are complex issues that we struggle with every day. But we have never given up. We will continue to look for innovative solutions and win-win partnerships to personalize and not sensationalize this issue, and we hope that the media will choose to do the same.
Debbie Kim Morikawa is the director of the city Department of Community Services.