City, state make good strides on helping homeless
The city has announced that it will close Thomas Square permanently on nights following a cleanup of the park this month.
THOMAS Square is the next public park to be closed at night
because of its use as a sleeping place for the homeless. The city and state have acted responsibly in coordinating the return of parks to the general public while providing shelters to the homeless and working toward helping them obtain permanent housing.
The chore has been difficult at Ala Moana Beach Park and along the Waianae Coast, and similar challenges exist on the North Shore. Unlike those parks, Thomas Square has been inhabited mainly by single adults, some with problems of mental illness or substance abuse.
The city will close Thomas Square from the night of Monday, Aug. 20, to the following Friday afternoon. After completion of a cleanup, repairs and renovations, it will be closed from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily.
At Next Step, an abandoned warehouse that the state converted last year into an emergency shelter, about one-fourth of the 270 residents are children, according to a recent survey. The shelter is divided into three sections for families with children, men and single mothers and couples. More than a third of the adult residents have jobs.
More than one-fourth of the state's 6,000 homeless are employed, 11 percent part-time and 17 percent full-time, according to a report last November by the University of Hawaii's Center on the Family. While Hawaii has the lowest unemployment rate in the country, its rate of homelessness is fourth-highest.
Obviously, the state's high cost of housing has left a disproportionate number of people on the street -- or, more likely, on the beach. The state has recognized that the first need is to provide shelters and the next is to help the transition toward permanent housing.
In Next Step's first full year of operation, 160 had moved out, 40 of them into market-rated housing. The lease of the former warehouse will expire early next year.
The state is spending $10.8 million this year on building new emergency and transition shelters. It opened a shelter in Waianae with a capacity of 270 people in April and plans a transitional shelter in Maili. Areas in need of shelters include Wahiawa and the North Shore, according to Doren Porter, director of the Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance, which operates Next Step and other shelter programs.
As the homeless move into shelters and eventually permanent housing, beaches and parks will be more inviting to the public. "We all want them to be accessible, clean and well-kept, to reflect the beauty of our island and our responsibility as stewards of these public facilities," said Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who will lead a cleanup of North Shore beach parks on Saturday.