Homeless will get public housing units
A plan advances to give 14 shelter families transitional housing
The board of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority declined to block some public housing units from being used by homeless people from a transitional shelter that will close.
Bill on homeless ban at bus stops deferred
A City Council committee held off action yesterday on a bill that would ban homeless from sleeping or staying at bus stops because of concerns over violating their constitutional rights.
Maj. Robert Green of the Honolulu Police Department also testified in front of the Council's Transportation and Public Works Committee that it would be difficult to enforce the proposal as it is worded now.
Under the bill, police officers can fine violators loitering at the bus stops during hours the buses are running a maximum of $50 unless they have a mental or physical disability. Green noted that many may use this as a loophole to avoid paying a fine.
Councilman Rod Tam, the bill's author, said he is willing to take out this exception for mentally and physically disabled that would allow police officers to use discretion.
However, Transportation Chairman Nestor Garcia deferred the bill yesterday after Councilman Charles Djou said a similar bill banning Waikiki street performers had failed because of concerns of constitutional violations.
Tam and Djou said they will work together to craft a bill ensuring the bill won't violate the constitutional rights of the public while allowing bus riders to stay at bus stops comfortably.
The move means 14 families, who have been living at the emergency/transitional shelter called the Next Step Project in Kakaako, could get units as early as this summer, leaping ahead of 8,600 residents on a waiting list for public housing -- some for a decade.
Five board members voted against using the 14 units at Puahala Housing off School Street for transitional housing, short two votes needed to stop the plan.
Board member Sherrilee Dodson, who voted against tapping the public housing pool, said she feared the homeless residents could face retaliation from public housing residents who don't want them around.
"If we put them there, I do think we'll have problems," she said.
Before taking the vote, the board heard from several residents who opposed using the units for the homeless.
"It's going to be very, very challenging," said Vickie Milo, a Puahala resident for more than seven years. "Because it's totally smack in the middle in our community, it's hard to see two different lifestyles, two different rules, in one large community."
Russ Saito, state comptroller and leader of the governor's homeless solutions task force, said the state needed to relocate families from the Next Step shelter.
"The only reason we're going here is because in the urban area this is the only thing available," he said.
The state built the shelter in 2006 for hundreds of residents displaced when the city closed Ala Moana Beach Park for repairs.
Officials began looking for a replacement shelter last year because the shelter's lease was set to expire June 30. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs is planning to build its headquarters on the site, but said recently it won't begin construction until next year.
State officials, however, still are looking for a replacement for the shelter, which is being phased out. Saito said the Hawaii Community Development Authority is leasing the land to the state free of charge -- forgoing about $70,000 a month in rent -- on a month-to-month lease that can be ended for other short-term business opportunities.
Located in an old warehouse beside the University of Hawaii's medical school, the shelter houses close to 200 people, including about 20 families.
"We would like to wind it down," Saito said.
Saito said the homeless will use the vacant Puahala units for no more than two years. Residents will be carefully selected, allowing only those with jobs into Puahala housing, Saito said.
He said families staying at Puahala will pay about $500 to $600 in monthly rent that will go to the homeless program, not state public housing, to cover the program fee and service by the provider.