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Isles rank third in aid to homeless kids


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POSTED: Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hawaii ranked third in the nation for its performance in taking care of homeless children, according to a national report.

"We have come a long way in a short few years in recognizing the problem and doing something about it," said Utu Langi, director of the Next Step Shelter.

The National Center on Family Homelessness report, released yesterday, includes overall state rankings in four areas: child homelessness per capita, child well-being, risk of child homelessness, and state policy and planning. Connecticut ranked at the top of the list while Texas was at the bottom.

Langi attributed Hawaii's ranking to Gov. Linda Lingle's initiatives to reduce homelessness.

Of the 160 people at the Next Step Shelter in Kakaako, 30 are children. Most of the children are between ages 7 and 12.

Langi said more needs to be done to ensure children have nutritious meals and continue their studies. Education is the key to breaking the cycle of homelessness.

"We have a long way to go, but I'm pretty optimistic of the future with homeless services for families," he added.

But Hawaii was one of 24 states that received an "inadequate" grade for planning and policy based on data collected in 2005-2006. State homeless solutions coordinator Russ Saito and Sandra Miyoshi, head of the Hawaii Interagency Council for the Homeless, could not be reached for comment.

In 2006, Lingle signed an emergency proclamation to address the growing homeless problem that included construction of Next Step and five shelters on the Leeward Coast that have since opened.

Since the inception of Next Step, 45 percent of the 1,000 people served found permanent homes. The Hawaii Interagency Council for the Homeless also was formed in 2006. The report wrongly said Hawaii did not have such an entity.

The report estimates 1.5 million children nationwide experienced homelessness at least once in 2005-2006, and says the problem is surely worse now because of the foreclosures and job losses of the deepening recession. "If we could freeze-frame it now, it would be bad enough," said Democratic Sen. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, who wrote a foreword to the report. "By end of this year, it will be that much worse."

Dr. Ellen Bassuk, president of the National Center on Family Homelessness and a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School, said many states fell short in regard to policy and planning. Only six were praised for "extensive" planning.

Ending homelessness for all U.S. children within a decade is possible despite the recession, said the report, which Bassuk's center issued to launch a campaign pursuing that goal.

"If we fail to act," the report said, "the consequences will play out for years to come as a generation of lost children grow to adulthood."

 

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The Associated Press and Star-Bulletin reporter Rosemarie Bernardo contributed to this report.