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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 10, 2006

Beach homeless not just a Wai'anae issue

Taking back the Wai'anae beaches and cleaning them up was last weekend's "feel good" activity.

But, no one on O'ahu should be lulled into thinking the work of a few volunteers over the next few weeks will be enough to solve the problem of the homeless on our beaches, in Wai'anae or anywhere else.

To win that battle will take the concerted effort and concern of the entire island, from the North Shore to East Ho-nolulu, and from Kailua to Wai'anae. And it is important to recognize that the "battle," if you will, is not between beach users and the homeless.

Rather, it is a battle to find adequate and affordable housing for a population that is increasingly displaced and alienated.

The Wai'anae Coast Coalition was right on target last week when it presented a letter signed by more than 400 Wai'anae Coast residents to the governor, mayor and other public officials. The letter expressed the group's concern that the issue of homelessness not be seen as a "just a Wai'anae issue."

While the Wai'anae residents promised, as they have so honorably done in the past, to take on more than their share of the burden, they want the rest of us to be involved.

That's a fair and sensible position.

In times past, on a variety of other topics, what should have been islandwide issues have become by default a problem for Wai'anae to deal with.

But as the coalition points out, many of the estimated 2,000 to 4,000 people living on Leeward beaches are not just from Wai'anae. They're from all parts of the island.

The coalition insists it will do its share to assist and provide shelter. But it is not fair to Wai'anae or to the people now living on the beaches there to think the problem can be solved by building alternative housing in that neighborhood only. The creation of emergency shelters should take place in other communities as well.

It's true that the Leeward Coast has the largest concentration of homeless on the island. That may be where the immediate need is. But it's not the only place the problem exists; indeed, it may simply be that because the beaches are available there, it is the place where it is most visible.

It's imperative that we resist singling out the Wai'anae Coast and reframe the issue of homelessness as everybody's kuleana.