Homeless solution would be feather in Lingle's cap
The governor is embarking on a re-election campaign with a complex issue on the table.
AS SHE filed papers for her re-election bid
, Governor Lingle delivered the disappointing news that she has put aside one of the goals of her last campaign -- to build new prisons to house inmates now being sent to mainland facilities.
It was not an auspicious beginning for the Republican governor who has had spotty success in other endeavors, largely because of opposition from Democratic state lawmakers.
The turnaround on prisons won't threaten the popular Lingle's re-election. It's not a hot-button issue; in fact, it saves her from having to insert prisons into communities where residents surely would object, a problem she cited in announcing her policy shift.
But the change also doesn't allow her to check off prisons as an accomplished item on her "Agenda for a New Beginning," the list of objectives from her 2002 campaign.
That's not to say Lingle hasn't done much in her first four years. Her strength has been to act as a catalyst to prod other leaders from the status quo. Had she not proposed decentralizing the school system and introduced a new way to fund education, legislators and the Department of Education would not have made the advances in place today.
There is one issue in which the governor can make a difference -- the overwhelming problem of homelessness.
According to the Housing and Community Development Corporation of Hawaii, there are nearly 15,000 people without a place to live statewide, with the lion's share -- almost 10,000 -- on Oahu.
Their plight has become increasingly visible during the past few months as the city closed Ala Moana park and makeshift lodgings were cleared from under freeway ramps and bridges. When thousands set up camps along Leeward beaches, public complaints grew louder.
Since Mayor Hannemann has ceded the problem to the state -- ostensibly because the city doesn't have the resources to cope -- Lingle has taken the lead.
She set up a facility in Kakaako to help those displaced from Ala Moana and since then has put together an ambitious plan to deal with the Leeward crisis, accelerating development of emergency and transitional shelters. The state also will seek help from companies or agencies interested in building or operating homeless facilities.
Lingle can do even more. Just as the state provides financial incentives for hotel and resort development, it can do the same to lure businesses and nonprofit groups to build rental units that low-income people can afford. In addition, she can push to increase affordable housing requirements in new developments. Most effective and enduring would be to set up programs to aid those who are on the brink of losing their homes.
Homelessness hurts the state's economic health and the well-being of society. Fixing Oahu's problem would be a good step toward a Lingle legacy.