Task calls for compassion, commitment
By Kaulana Park, State Homeless Solutions Coordinator
Have you checked out The Hot Seat? It's our opinion-page blog that brings in your elected leaders and people in the news and lets you ask the questions during a live online chat.
On The Hot Seat last week was Kaulana Park, state homeless solutions coordinator. Here is an excerpt from that Hot Seat session. To see the full conversation, go to The Hot Seat blog at www.honolululadvertiser.com/opinion and click on "On the Hot Seat: Kaulana Park, state homeless solutions coordinator." (Names of questioners are screen names given during our online chat.)
Christian L.: The homelessness issue is out of hand. It is far from just a Leeward Coast problem. Aside from yourself, what other resources has the governor designated to address this issue? Are you still working for Hawaiian Homelands? What's the long-term plan to fix this for our future generations?
Kaulana Park: The governor has assigned me to work with a very high level team in our administration. They comprise of many individuals from multiple departments such as Department of Accounting and General Services, Hawai'i Public Housing Authority, Budget & Finance, Attorney Generals' Office, Department of Health, Department of Human Services, and Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, to name a few. We also partner with many sectors that include the private sector, military, nonprofits, faith-based and federal government.
Yes, I am still working for DHHL. However, most of my time is spent on the special project.
One of the long-term solutions is the Hawai'i State Interagency on Homelessness 10-year Strategic Plan to end homelessness. We have already implemented some of the objectives in this plan, such as eliminating the barriers that exist for programs and services to be involved in our shelters.
Luana Lester Nelson: What will happen when the emergency powers of the governor end? Where will the funding for our homeless programs come from then? Are we even planning on it?
Is the Legislature planning permanent, long-term funding for the shelters and programs that now exit?
Park: The Leeward Coast emergency declaration ends June 30, 2008. The funding for homeless programs will come from the Legislature. The governor requested $13-plus million for the homeless program budget this past legislative session. The Legislature appropriated $11 million in the homeless budget and an additional $6 million in a separate bill. We are currently putting together the budget for fiscal 2009 which will be submitted to the Legislature in December. We are hopeful that with the seriousness of homelessness in Hawai'i, our Legislature will support our request.
Caroline Soaladaob: What are you doing to find resources to help people that need to get help with transitional housing? There is no agency that will help with funds for transitional, and I feel that this is a barrier for some of our family that want to get into transitional shelters.
Park: All transitional housing receive operations funding from the state homeless program. The Salvation Army handles the state's grant program, which provides funds for the deposit required by transitional shelters, provided the families have enough resources to pay the monthly program fee.
Steven: There have been recent articles about Micronesians in the homeless shelters and how they're increasing. My questions has two parts. How much of the statistics or information written are facts, and what are the consulates of the Micronesian states doing to help out with the situation?
Park: Statistics can sometimes be misleading, depending on their methodology. While some shelters have a high population of Micronesians, others do not share the same experience. For example, our shelters on the Leeward Coast have minimal representation.
Our state officials are meeting with Micronesian leaders on an ongoing basis.
Harold: What's being done to help homeless children continue and succeed in school despite being homeless?
Park: Unfortunately, about one-third of the population in our shelters are children. We have multiple nonprofit organizations that provide education and programs to our children. We continue to work closely with the Department of Education staff assigned to homeless children.
Kanani Kaaiawahia: Regarding the update to the Mai'li Village: We do not need to start this project as the emergency shelters are full, transitionals are strapped and now we are at a bottleneck. We need to move these people somewhere. Where? The problem isn't going away until we get really serious about developing "creative" supportive housing. I sense this is a start to the development of the housing we need. Stop doing Band-Aid treatment. Let's get down to the cure, creative/ support housing. Shelters are fixes, not solutions.
Park: We agree this project is badly needed as a bridge from the shelters to stable, permanent housing. We are very close to starting, and mahalo for your support of the Villages of Mai'li transitional housing project. This project will provide 80 units for approximately 200 people, and also includes a community learning center. Hawai'i Housing Finance Development Corp. anticipates adding an estimated 6,000 affordable housing units over the next five years statewide. This means more permanent housing opportunities for our former homeless.
Adrian: I run at Ala Moana Park at 4 a.m. two to three times a week. I've seen an increasing number of homeless over the past year. They sleep on the sidewalks and grassy areas on the mauka side, along Ala Moana Boulevard between the 'ewa and Atkinson entrances of the park. The elderly struggle to maneuver around the homeless sleeping on the sidewalks. Another homeless area is Kaka'ako Park, around the UH medical building. The homeless are sleeping in cars, on sidewalks, in stairwells and on the benches.
Ala Moana Park and Kaka'ako has a dirty, smelly, slummy feeling. I've complained many times to no avail.
What is the state doing to rid the park and Kaka'ako of homeless, and what happened to the weekly sweep of the park?
Park: The City & County of Honolulu has jurisdiction over Ala Moana Beach Park, that includes any maintenance or "sweeps." The state opened the Next Step Shelter in Kaka'ako in May 2006 to accommodate the homeless in this area. The shelter has served more than 700 people and has successfully transitioned 268 people into housing.
Rootsrundeep: Many people lump all homeless folks into one large group and assume that they ... prefer to beg for money rather than to clean up their bodies and their spirits and then get a job like the rest of us.
Please give a rough estimate of the sub-groups: veterans with major substance abuse or mental illness under and over the age of 40; other males with similar problems under and over the age of 40; single parents with children under 18; intact families with children under 18; couples with substance abuse problems; couples without substance abuse problems; single women over the age of 50; single women under the age of 50; percentage employed and unemployed; percentage homeless because of increased rents; percentage of Native Hawaiians; percentage from other Pacific islands and the percentage from the continental United States who've moved here within the past five years; and other demographics which impact our homeless population.
Taking the largest number — about 7,000 — which is about less than 1 percent of our total population, why is it that we cannot handle this problem?
What do you need from us?
Park: First of all, mahalo for your clarification of the many definitions of homeless people. The sub-group information that you requested is available in our Hawai'i Public Housing Authority. Please contact Homeless Programs Branch, 832-5930.
Our team HEART — Homeless Efforts Achieving Results Together — Leeward Coast has reviewed various outreach and point and time study reports since July 2006. The actual number is always difficult to track due to the transient nature of our homeless. One conclusion we made early on is that the number of homeless living on the beaches and in the parks is huge. With that, we decided to move forward and work with the community to identify possible solutions and implement them in a timely manner.
As a result, the state and its partners succeeded in accelerating the opening of two emergency transitional shelters on the Leeward Coast, Onelau'ena and Pai'olu Kai'ulu, which currently holds approximately 500 people, of which more than 200 are children. As significant as this is, we understand that there remains a large number of homeless still living without adequate sanitation facilities and unhealthy conditions.
What is needed is a great deal of community support for our homeless. This is a serious problem and a huge task that requires compassion, commitment and aloha from all of us. They are our fellow citizens, our neighbors, our 'ohana, our kanaka maoli. They are certainly not outcasts. They deserve a chance, a safe place to live, and access to programs and services to get them back on their feet. What will drive this is our community leaders, partners and kama'aina coming together with the same aloha spirit and giving heart for the sake to help our homeless who in their due time will become self-sufficient.