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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, June 6, 2006

History repeats itself, sadly

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

First, the city put out notices that the beach parks would be closed and any remaining campers would be cited or arrested.

Then local charities and human service groups hustled to set up alternative living arrangements.

The city spent money to equip the new temporary shelter area with showers and portable toilets, but few of the beach people moved in. They didn't like the rules they were required to follow.

Meanwhile, social service agencies held meetings about "permanent solutions" and politicians talked about affordable housing and representatives for the homeless gave lists of demands to city officials. Not requests or wish lists, but demands.

The city Parks Department head said, "The Parks Department is not in the business of social services ... these are recreational campsites; they are not residential beach parks."

But after the evictions, the tent clusters started popping back up on the beaches.

The homeless said the cost of housing was keeping them on the beach. They had nowhere else to go.

That was 1984.

Now, the number of homeless people is in the thousands, not the hundreds, the cost of a rental unit is in the thousands, not the hundreds, and crystal meth makes everything more dangerous. But fundamental elements of the problem remain.

Sadly, the way the homeless situation is being handled is the same, too.

It didn't work in 1984.

Temporary shelters did not meet with the approval of those who wanted to come and go as they please, consume whatever substance made them happy and behave in a manner contrary to basic rules of social conduct.

Affordable units did not spring up, at least not to match the rate at which the homeless population grew.

The only appreciable change between now and 1984 is the job market. Now, jobs are plentiful, and just about everyone who wants to work can find work doing something. (The folks who held signs all day long outside of City Hall for the better part of a month claimed to all have jobs, but you have to wonder what kind of job allows you the free time to hold signs all day every day.)

The problem is the same, only worse. The solutions are the same, only less likely to solve the problem. The attitude of entitlement of those who live on public beaches has intensified. The charitable way in which Hawai'i's gentle-hearted citizens view the situation is the same, too.

Or is it? Maybe tolerance hasn't helped. Maybe compassion has to be tempered with realism.

Or else, what will we be facing 22 years from now?

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.