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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 24, 2006

Transition shelter bill can help 'hidden city'

People living hidden under our bridges and roadways are not the stuff of myth or folk legend.

Unfortunately in Honolulu, they're real symbols of urban life, where homelessness has reached a level that demands legislative action.

While the issue will clearly require a comprehensive effort on several fronts from emergency shelters to transitional housing to a more affordable housing stock in general one measure at the Capitol attempts to squarely deal with the hidden homeless under roadways and bridges.

House Bill 2066 designates public and private areas as sites for temporary shelters in each county, which would help address the problem of squatters living under H-1.

As reported by The Advertiser's Rod Ohira, dozens of people have sought shelter under the Ke'ehi Interchange's 12 overpasses, making the H-1 viaduct a "hidden city."

But the viaduct area has become more than just a refuge for the homeless. It's also become a magnet for others, whom the homeless refer to as "outsiders." While the homeless are there for shelter, the "outsiders" are there to conduct illegal and dangerous activities, from drug dealing to gambling.

This recent report highlights the need to deal with safety issues for one of our most vulnerable populations.

The state's Department of Transportation plans a cleanup of the viaduct area at the end of the month. And police sweeps may deal with the criminal element, at least for the moment; social workers will also be on hand to help the homeless.

But where will they go, considering the shortage of affordable housing and transitional shelters?

The bill before lawmakers would require the state to coordinate with counties to locate, designate and maintain areas that would serve as much-needed temporary shelters.

It still doesn't fully address the long-term issue of homelessness, and the state must commit to do much more.

But in the meantime, it's a cut above a plywood platform under the freeway.