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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 16, 2010

Our homeless, and now their homeless, too

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawai'i loves being seen as the Aloha State. We cannot become the Homeless Aloha State.

Our reputation for warm weather, pleasant beaches and hassle-free social services is attracting people with no connection to Honolulu deeper than understanding that free food and shelter are readily available.

The homelessness crisis here is a complex issue with needs among the mentally ill on the streets as well as those driven there by chronic underemployment and high rents.

But the latest twist in this knotty problem is especially troubling. As the Advertiser's Mary Vorsino reported last week, homeless counts are being boosted by people who fly in from the Mainland, expressly to slump right into the Hawai'i social service safety net. Bad enough that it's already strained to the breaking point serving the needs of Hawai'i residents, somehow the word is out that the homeless life here is sweet and free of reproach.

This isn't about building more shelters. This is about putting pressure on the freeloaders, street campers and just plain vagrants who have set up in a growing number of neighborhoods. Connie Mitchell, executive director of the Institute for Human Services, said she's seen Mainland transplants turn up at her door straight from the airport. They're startled when they hear they'll have to pay $90 for the month, Mitchell said, and many beat a hasty retreat, bound for a shelter that is free.

This is part of the problem, she added: All the service providers need to present a united front and make new arrivals pitch in either with a fee or by doing chores to earn their keep.

Nonprofit shelters also can work with the courts to enforce bans on squatting by allowing those cited to work off their sentences of community service at their shelters.

Deborah Kim Morikawa, who heads the city's programs for the homeless, said Honolulu Hale is working on a "balanced approach" to clear public areas while helping the homeless meet their emergency needs. A meeting of various interest groups to flesh out a solution is tentatively set for June, she said, and there are already housing subsidies that help people as long as they're actively getting help and seeking work, she said.

Some other ideas: It may be time for the city to put $50,000 in a special fund to pay for a one-way ticket for those who simply want to go home. It's an idea that's been kicked around before but never pursued. Try it and see what happens.

As for those who pile up their belongings in carts and in lean-tos, can't some secure storage be found to keep their stuff safe so they can get into a shelter and get some help? How can it be legal to stack up boxes, bins and suitcases, wrap them up in tarps and leave them in city parks for days, weeks, months?

Mufi Hannemann is still the mayor of Honolulu and before moving on to other adventures, he needs to get tough and get real about this city's spreading homeless crisis. To leave the work to task forces and nonprofits is simply passing along a huge mess to his successor; that's not the kind of leadership people expect from their mayor or governor.

We said it earlier this year and we're again saying it: We need to take back Honolulu.