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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 2, 2006

Homelessness crisis demands swift action

Solving the homeless problem in Hawai'i will take a strong sense of urgency, a commitment from the entire community, and a slew of good ideas that are both compassionate and effective.

All were in evidence at a summit of homeless advocates and service providers brought together at the request of Gov. Linda Lingle last week.

Called well in advance of the current displacement of several hundred homeless people from state and city areas, the summit was more than a feel-good photo op.

The governor showed she wasn't willing to wait for the Legislature to come up with funds to fight the problem; she asked homeless advocates to put in proposal requests immediately for what could be in excess of $20 million in funds.

That's precisely the sort of urgency this problem requires.

Good ideas also surfaced from advocates from around the state: Hawai'i County's Carol Ignacio from the Catholic Church's Office for Social Ministry spoke of the need for effectively appealing to landlords to rent to the homeless; Charles Ridings of the Maui Economic Concerns for the Community wants public housing to be sold to private groups so that these units can be fixed up and rented at affordable rates; and Rene Berthaiume of Trans Pac Housing is forming a nonprofit group of developers to build affordable units.

Two ideas that deserve immediate attention: increasing the amount of rental vouchers, which have been set at a painfully low rate of $160 a month since 1988; and coordinating with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to see what other affordable housing developments, such as Honolulu's Kukui Gardens, will be back on the market.

Lingle has said the state is prepared to step in to protect the loss of Kukui Gardens through eminent domain, and that's the right approach. Hawai'i simply cannot afford any reduction to its affordable housing stock.

All of this is encouraging. And by the end of the summit, those on the frontline of the homeless crisis had something they rarely experience: hope.

Now it's up to the state, homeless advocates and our community as a whole to keep up the momentum and work cooperatively to find solutions to Hawai'i's daunting homeless crisis.