Solving The Homeless Problem

Larry Price
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Wednesday - May 10, 2006
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It’s encouraging to witness the governor’s people stepping in and doing something positive about taking care of our homeless population.

Having said that, let me say that the City & County of Honolulu will probably never solve its homeless situation, for a number of reasons. To begin with, the administrators don’t think it’s their problem, so their solution will always be harsh in nature.

Until now, the City & County of Honolulu’s main remedy for dealing with homelessness has been some kind of urban renewal project. I can’t remember all of the projects, but my earliest recollection was on Paokalani Street in Waikiki. They tore down all the slum housing in the area and forced all of those who could-n’t afford a higher rent to go elsewhere.

Years later the city government did the same thing in Kakaako around Kewalo Theater. The residents who were displaced by the urban renewal projects never returned. The same thing happened when they built Kuhio Park Terrace and Kukui Gardens. In the case of Kukui Gardens, the government has come full circle. It created a low-income housing project, sold it on the open market and now plans to condemn the property and buy into a partnership to force the owners to keep affordable housing units.

Do you remember the condition Aala Park was in before it was renovated? The Chinatown urban renewal put up entrance signs and did all the painting, park bench repair and restroom restoration. Ten years later, Aala Park is well on its way to returning to its former self. It is still a favorite hangout for the homeless and residents looking to score a free meal or a chemical lift.

They got rid of the street performers by moving them to a street off Kalakaua and out of sight of the big spenders in Waikiki. Too bad for the plan, it was ruled unconstitutional more than once.

It kind of makes you wonder if someone will say the recent treatment of the homeless will in some way be unconstitutional. If you can’t force a mentally ill homeless person off the streets and into a hospital, how can you legally force them to live in a warehouse if they choose not to? I guess we’ll have to hope for the best that everyone will cooperate for a change.

No one would be more surprised than I if the mayor of Honolulu allows Ala Moana’s homeless population to return to their former haunts. It would be politically unwise to do that - after all, the renovations are paid for by taxpayers for use by taxpayers.

To everyone’s surprise, the governor’s people chose the location to house the homeless at Pier 1: a warehouse adjacent to the John A. Burns School of Medicine. The shelter will be just short of low-income housing, beds at the Institute of Human Services and a dormitory at Frear Hall at the University of Hawaii-Manoa.

The plan is well thought out. Everyone will have to be tagged with an ID card, have their own storage lockers and assigned sleeping areas. It will have on-site showers and restrooms, and even air conditioning. For many of the homeless, this will be the as close to assisted living as they have experienced in quite a while.

Since they are so close to the UH medical school, maybe they can also benefit from the expertise operating at the school. This is opposite of the urban renewal plan that put the Hawaii Convention Center right across from a vacant shack and a raw nightclub, Rock-Za, and one of the last remaining rundown low-income housing locations in Honolulu. They did manage to get rid of the old wooden barracks that housed the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Unlike the homeless, there aren’t many of them around to complain.

It would be nice and maybe strategic to steal an idea from hospitals and care homes: Separate the homeless residents of the Pier 1 shelter by special classifications. Have different corners for hobos, alcoholics, drug dealers, general addicts, the mentally ill, non-residents trying to find their way back to the mainland or Pacific Islands, those abandoned by their relatives or children, and a special spot for those families who lost their homes because of an inability to pay Honolulu’s high rent.

Of course, they won’t do this because it is unethical, unconstitutional or both. One thing is for sure, the next 12 months are going to provide the best opportunity for government to handle one of its biggest problems.

These are real human beings, and you just can’t dump them in the Ala Wai Canal and hope they go away.

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