Honolulu ranked among meanest to the homeless
By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer
A new report ranks Honolulu the eighth-"meanest" city in the country to homeless people.
In its analysis of Honolulu, the report points to city parks initiatives, including recent park clean-ups and night closures that have meant homeless have to move elsewhere. The study also raised concerns about some City Council proposals, including one that would have banned sleeping at bus stops, and criticized a city program to replace bus stop benches with round stools to discourage sleeping.
City Department of Community Services director Debbie Kim Morikawa said the ranking doesn't take into account considerable efforts undertaken over the past several years to beef up homelessness programs.
She also said the report mischaracterizes measures aimed at making sure that everyone gets a fair chance at using public spaces.
"If we didn't have certain types of laws, we would have a lot of people in public spaces permanently," she said, adding that the city and state have worked hard to create more shelter space for people so they don't "need to use the parks and the streets" for sleeping at night.
The study looked at laws and policies that target the homeless — along with the "general political climate toward homeless people" — in 273 cities nationwide. Honolulu wasn't ranked in the report in 2006, the most recent year it was issued. But in 2004, Honolulu was named the ninth-meanest city in the country.
That year, Hawai'i was also ranked as the third meanest state.
The report issued this week, called "Homes Not Handcuffs," only ranks cities.
Some advocates for the homeless in the Islands said the ranking isn't surprising.
They contend the city has been trying to grapple with a homelessness problem by passing laws and implementing policies, rather than by finding solutions to homelessness.
"I think it's concerning. It's not a list you want to make, I don't think," said Darlene Hein, director of community services at the Waikiki Health Center's Care-a-van program, which provides homeless people islandwide with support services.
But Hein also said that the ranking may not be entirely fair, since Honolulu — a popular tourist destination — is being compared to cities that don't rely heavily on visitor dollars. She said she understands why the city is looking to address the homeless population, though she doesn't agree with how it's doing it.
"We need to spend more time ... working on the underlying problem," she said.
The report was written by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless. The city rankings analyze policies that were undertaken in 2007 and 2008.
The study ranks Los Angeles as the nation's meanest city, largely because of its high police presence in the Skid Row area.
The study said Los Angeles spent $6 million in 2007 to pay 50 extra police officers to crack down on crime in Skid Row, while it spent $5.7 million on homelessness services.
Four of the top 10 meanest cities are in Florida.