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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 6, 2006

We should sustain aid to our homeless

A sound idea underlies Gov. Linda Lingle's latest proposal: Homelessness requires providing both a roof over one's head as well as a firm footing to enable a fresh start.

Admittedly, the $20 million set aside for the plan half for repairing facilities and half for programs to guide families back to self-sufficiency is a drop in the bucket considering the magnitude of the problem. More than 6,000 Isle residents are homeless on any given day, and more than 12,000 experience homelessness at some time during the year.

Lingle's administration concedes that most of the repair funds could go quickly. A check with five of the private shelters has tallied expenses that would eat up about one-fifth of that money.

And spending plans seem indefinite at the moment. Housing officials must move quickly to list priority projects, including both repairs in social service programs, to sell the plan to lawmakers as a smart investment.

But more troubling than the sketchiness of the plan is that the allotment is only a one-time influx of funds. One planner correctly observed that the improvements will expand shelter capacity. And that will take more money to keep up, even if the state stretches the dollars by adapting buses, boats or other makeshift shelters to the task.

Hawai'i should make a long-term commitment to a sustained campaign against homelessness. It's a critical need. Without the stability of decent shelter, families disintegrate in the struggle to survive, and hope for the future is sublimated to present needs.

That's one way poverty is handed down from one generation to the next.

A steady source of funding, paired with a thoughtful strategy for using the money, is what's needed during the lean budgetary years as well as when we've got surplus dollars at hand.

Lawmakers should respond to Lingle's initiative by upping the ante with ideas of their own to deal permanently with this problem that shames all of us who live in Hawai'i nei.