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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 3, 2006

VOLCANIC ASH
City blew it big time on the park homeless

By David Shapiro

Mayor Mufi Hannemann nearly cemented Hawai'i's reputation as one of the meanest states for the homeless when he closed Ala Moana Park to them without warning, displacing some 200 people including many children in the middle of O'ahu's heavy rains.

But the city's heartless action is turning out to be a catalyst that may finally put us on the path to ending chronic homelessness in Hawai'i.

Efforts by churches, private charities and the state to respond to the Ala Moana evictions are restoring an image of aloha that suits us far better than the city's callousness.

Churches led by Central Union and Kawaiaha'o stepped up big to provide emergency housing for the Ala Moana homeless.

When the churches ran out of resources this week, the state and relief agencies it contracted were ready with project "Next Step" to house 200 people at an abandoned building in Kaka'ako.

If done right, it can provide a solid model for assisting greater numbers of homeless in the months ahead.

The Legislature paved the way for real progress by budgeting a record $50 million to assist the homeless and address Hawai'i's shortage of affordable housing.

Gov. Linda Lingle has already put the wheels in motion to quickly use the money to support community homeless shelters and fast-track social services for those in need.

Her ambitious goal is ending homelessness, not finding new ways to warehouse people and move them around.

Acting as a catalyst in so negative a way is not something the city can be proud of.

Perhaps the homeless needed to be moved out of Ala Moana to reclaim the park for safe recreational use, but it was unacceptably cruel to move so hurriedly without any plan to deal with the impact on the homeless.

At the very least, the city should have waited until the rains ended and given reasonable notice to the Ala Moana homeless and the agencies that assist them.

Hannemann's after-the-fact assertion that the city's abrupt crackdown at Ala Moana was needed to prod the state into addressing homelessness is, as Lingle put it, "pure shibai."

Her administration has given unprecedented priority to working the problem with the counties and private organizations, and money to finance increased services was well on its way through the Legislature when the city jumped the gun.

The persistent glib claims by the mayor and his spokesman that homelessness is primarily the state's problem suggests a need for a serious attitude adjustment at Honolulu Hale.

The majority of the estimated 6,000 Hawai'i residents who are homeless on any given day reside on O'ahu and are very much the problem of the City and County of Honolulu.

Rousting the homeless out of a park without any impact plan is the poorest kind of management that only forces them to move somewhere else equally disruptive often to another public park.

The city's punitive posture feeds a misguided stereotype that all homeless are derelicts who refuse to help themselves.

Certainly a fair number of Hawai'i's homeless are recalcitrant addicts, but more often they are people down on their luck who can get their lives back on track with the right kind of compassionate assistance.

These include working families frozen out of Hawai'i's inflated housing market, people with physical and mental disabilities who lack family support, and immigrants from Pacific islands who come here with unrealistic expectations about employment and housing.

Reclaiming our parks and beaches from the homeless is best achieved by thoughtful planning for appropriate housing and social services not by aimlessly forcing them from one place to another in an endless cycle that ultimately solves nothing.

David Shapiro, a veteran Hawai'i journalist, can be reached by e-mail at dave@volcanicash.net.