Hawaii’s homeless need
comprehensive plan


County authorities are increasing efforts to send homeless people packing from public parks and other sites.

COUNTLESS families and individuals in Hawaii confront a bleak daily decision of where they will wait out the night, seeking a park, a beach or even a bus stop bench that can offer a minimum of temporary comfort, at least until the authorities, another of their number, fear or bad weather drives them away.

About 6,000 people in the state wander from place to place, perhaps occasionally carrying their meager belongings to shelters or the homes of friends and relatives who help them for a time, but eventually they find themselves back on the streets.

The basic problem of the homeless is obvious: They have no permanent place to live. But the reasons behind their homelessness are legion, among them drug abuse, mental illness, unemployment and poverty. It is because the roots of homelessness are varied that offering help is so difficult, and although a number of organizations nibble at the problem, no comprehensive program exists to pull together all the services needed to help the homeless, let alone resolve the many contributing factors.

There ought to be. Gov. Linda Lingle, the state Legislature and all county officials should put the weight of their authority to organize an expansive effort to lend a hand. While government and taxpayers cannot bear the full burden of solutions, a well-designed structure can be created to pool all resources and agencies to assist those in need and those who can get back on their feet.

About a quarter of the people without homes have jobs, but in a state where housing is extremely expensive and scarce, they do not earn enough to pay for a place to live. Yet the state and counties have resources, like housing units left vacant at Kalaeloa, that could be used at least temporarily, if not permanently.

Complaints from the public about homeless people living in parks or other public places prod authorities to send them packing. In Honolulu the city even went so far as to remove benches from Fort Street Mall after merchants and others complained that beggars and drug users were disturbing patrons and leaving trash and other messes in the area. On Kauai, where the number of people with no place to live doubled in two years, Mayor Bryan Baptiste ordered police to remove homeless campers from a county beach park, threatening them with arrest, even though the county has no shelter for them.

The pattern of evictions persists as the homeless leave a certain area for a while, then return when authorities retreat, move away again when rousted, and so on. This hampers the ability of agencies to offer help because they are then unable to locate the homeless when necessary.

A few years ago, Mayor Harris proposed that a "campus" be set up to provide a one-stop site for homeless services, but it appears the plan has not advanced. Nonetheless, the idea was a good one and should be revived and expanded for a coordinated statewide approach.



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