Homelessness eludes solutions


POSTED: Monday, March 16, 2009

CLEANSING city park facilities of unsightly dirt and conspicuous homeless people has been Mayor Mufi Hannemann's tried-and-true tactic, so it's no wonder Hannemann is using it again in Waikiki.

How badly the pavilions, restrooms and grounds at Kapiolani Park needed fixing up isn't so much the issue as removing the tents, tarps and unwanted tenants that have drawn repeated and valid complaints from hotels, visitors, neighborhood boards and businesses in Honolulu's premier tourism district.

Though the mayor characterized his program as necessary for sanitation and safety, he acknowledged that negative publicity about the scores of homeless people smack dab in the city's visitor mecca required he take action as he did along Leeward Oahu beaches and at Ala Moana park.

This time, the mayor consulted with emergency shelter officials who assured him they had enough space for the displaced park dwellers. The problem is that many homeless people refuse to take advantage of shelters, and the city cannot force them to. Also, there are many reasons people are without permanent places to live. Some have lost their jobs and cannot pay rent. Others work, but don't earn enough money for housing. Still others would sooner live a vagabond life than settle down responsibly.

No city or state is immune to homelessness and there is no one solution to the problem. However, the city's Kapiolani clean-up, despite its necessity, will again force people to migrate. Some might take the mayor's advice and retreat to shelters, but expect others to turn up once again in public space and the cycle to repeat.