Hawaii’s homeless
problem can’t be
simply swept away


A resolution has been proposed to end rousts of people from public areas and to use some park lands for temporary shelter

A "bankruptcy of policies" is how a Methodist minister describes Hawaii's inability -- or unwillingness -- to help people who do not have a place to live. It is a shameful failure in a state that professes compassion. The chronic problem of homelessness will remain until tackled aggressively.

There are two parts to a resolution before the state Legislature for which the Rev. Bob Nakata, pastor at Kahaluu United Methodist Church and a former state lawmaker, spoke for at a hearing last week.

One would simply ask that authorities stop rousting homeless people from parks and other public spaces across the state, a practice no one acknowledges as useful. The sweeps are "an inhumane and really immoral" course of action with no positive result, Nakata said.

The resolution would have no weight of law. It merely expresses the wish of the Legislature, and surely few lawmakers would favor continuing the futile sweeps. However, it is another part of the resolution that worries them since it suggests that selected areas in some parks be designated as places homeless people can live until a more permanent plan can be offered.

The thought of tents and tarps at Kapiolani Park in the heart of the Waikiki tourist district, Aala Park in downtown Honolulu or Alii Beach in scenic Haleiwa probably sends shudders through communities and businesses as well as the state Capitol and City Hall. No one wants homeless people, and the perceived problems they might bring, anywhere in sight. However, pushing them into the shadows of society doesn't make the problem go away.

About a quarter of people and families without a permanent place to live are employed, send their children to schools and pay taxes. They just can't afford the high rents or home mortgages, even more so recently as Hawaii's tight but active housing market pushes prices beyond their reach. Others have drug or legal problems, and many have mental illnesses that force them to the fringes.

Whatever the case, prodding them from one park to another does no good. Those who could benefit from services and aid are less able to take advantage of them when there is no way to predict where they will be from day to day. Nearby residents who complain of their presence get only temporary relief, and the cost for police officers to move them out is money down the drain.

Proposals to curtail homelessness cycle through legislative bodies continually. Most never see the light of day. An omnibus bill focused on affordable housing has been amended to eliminate provisions for the homeless and now concentrates on tax, planning and zoning, and construction exemptions for developers. Once again, lawmakers have passed on an opportunity for solutions.

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