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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 29, 2006

Homeless shelters in works

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

Campsites dot Ma'ili Beach Park, a familiar sight along the Wai'anae Coast where the number of homeless is estimated to be about 4,000. The governor yesterday said "this is something to be ashamed of."

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Gov. Linda Lingle yesterday said the state will work to create emergency homeless shelters on the Wai'anae Coast and asked the city to postpone its planned beach park renovations there until there is somewhere for the homeless campers to go.

Lingle outlined her plans a day after she appeared at a community meeting in Wai'anae, where residents demanded that she get the homeless off the beaches, while others asked for compassion and solutions.

Homelessness on the Leeward Coast is a huge, many-layered and shameful problem, Lingle said yesterday, but one that she is committed to solving.

"It is a little like the question, 'How do you eat an elephant?' " she said. "You do it one bite at a time."

The first bite, she said, is to create emergency shelters. Transitional shelters, where individuals and families can learn ways to help themselves back into society, must follow, and low-cost rentals must be available for those who succeed in the effort, she said.

Lingle said her staff has been talking with social-service pro-viders and is working to find locations, buildings and builders to create emergency shelters. She said she hopes to have that phase completed by the beginning of next year.

Donors and volunteers will be greatly appreciated, she said. Government-owned land is being assessed, and private-property owners are being approached.

The top U.S. military commander in the Pacific, Adm. William J. Fallon, spoke to her yesterday to discuss ways the military might help out, she said.

Lingle said she hopes the city will delay its plans for cleanup at beaches used by homeless people until emergency shelters become available, and work with the state to create the homeless aid programs.

City spokesman Bill Brennan yesterday said Mayor Mufi Hannemann is willing to help out.

"The mayor said he is willing to work with the state and the community in any fashion to help resolve this issue," Brennan said.

One social-service provider, the Wai'anae Community Outreach Center, has estimated that the number of homeless people along the Wai'anae Coast has more than tripled since 2002, to about 4,000. Hundreds of campsites dominate the view across beaches from Nanakuli to Kea'au, in effect turning the 16-mile coastline into a tent city.

On Tuesday, more than 400 people packed a meeting room at Wai'anae District Park for the meeting on homelessness issues. They told Lingle the beaches had become unavailable and unsanitary for recreational users because of large populations of homeless people living on them.

Teachers and social workers, meanwhile, spoke of schoolchildren trying to keep up with their studies when their only home was a blue tarp stretched across makeshift tent poles on the beach.

"It's difficult to admit that things have reached this state in Hawai'i," Lingle said at a news conference yesterday at her Capitol office. "I am proud to be the governor of what I consider the best state in the union, but this is something to be ashamed of. This is something I'm not proud of."

Beaches should be available to the community for recreation, she said, but working families who can't afford to pay rent must be assisted, along with those homeless people who have mental illnesses and those who will fight to break addictions.

People who have decided to live on the beach because they prefer it to working to pay the rent are a different story, she said.

"We dealt with a similar situation on Maui," she said. "Some of the people who live on the beach are there because that is the lifestyle they want, and I have no sympathy for them."

Lingle said a full solution to homelessness is likely to be a multiyear project that will move beyond the Wai'anae Coast to other areas in the state.

Denise Saylors, a filmmaker who has documented homelessness on the Wai'anae Coast and who helped organize the grassroots group, Citizens of the Wai'anae Coast Who Vote, said her group had presented a series of recommendations to Lingle, and that she was glad the governor appears to be listening.

"It is a multiyear project, and we're glad to hear she is talking about taking emergency steps," she said.

She said she was happy to hear Lingle is approaching different entities within the community, and was particularly pleased to hear Fallon might be on board.

"The military is good at creating immediate living areas," she said. "When the people move off the beach, they are going to need lodging, fresh water, bathrooms and cooking and laundry areas."

Lingle's interest is heartening, she said.

"We'll watch, of course, to make sure action follows," she said, "but if she is already holding press conferences and talking with the admiral, it sounds like she is taking steps. We're excited. We're hopeful."

Reach Karen Blakeman at kblakeman@honoluluadvertiser.com.

Correction: In a press conference on the homeless situation, Gov. Linda Lingle commented that she had dealt with a situation on Maui in which some people chose to live on the beach because it is the lifestyle they want. A previous version of this story incorrectly named another island.