Clueless About The Homeless

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - April 30, 2008
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Well, here’s an idea - limit the governor’s emergency powers. Lawmakers, apparently, can see no way to correct Gov. Linda Lingle’s horrendous abuse of power, and they don’t want it to happen again. What sin did she commit? Something totally outrageous. She had the temerity to get homeless families off the beach.

What gall.

I get that many think the governor overstepped her authority (and made political hay) when she took funds set aside for other uses and overrode existing laws and regulations to build emergency shelters. But even so - even if the governor is guilty as charged - I hope lawmakers rethink this course of action.

It’s already been argued - and I agree - that Senate Bill 2828 could seriously and detrimentally restrict not only this governor, but future ones as well. It’s been said this is just political gamesmanship. Even Democrat Joe Souki has said that while he believes the governor mishandled the homeless situation, he thinks the measure is “petty.”

I’m having a hard time understanding why lawmakers have rejected the notion that the homeless problem is an emergency.

Ask the residents who have watched helplessly as their neighborhood beaches disappeared under acres of blue tarps. Ask the people who lost their apartments or homes because of rising rents or debilitating illness or sudden unemployment. Ask the social workers whose hands were tied as they tried in vain to find spaces for an ever-increasing number of displaced families. Ask the school principals who had to keep track of kids who suddenly had no address, or the teachers whose students came to school hungry, dirty, tired and angry. Ask the parents, who tried to keep those kids safe, dry and fed in camps and tents and cars and trucks. Ask the kids what it was like to hide their homelessness from classmates, or to try to do homework by the light of a Coleman lamp.

Not an emergency? I guess not, since if it were truly an emergency lawmakers would have done something about it long ago, right?

The families who have been helped and who are now living in those shelters know an emergency when they see one. An emergency to them is watching their children lose years of their lives waiting for a roof over their heads. An emergency to them is being afraid that their kids will be stuck with no prospects, and no future.

Look at the folks still on the beaches today, and there are quite a few. They tend to be those who refuse to move. Some are addicts or mentally ill. Many are unemployable. And many have lived there so long they no longer feel the need or the desire to live normal lives. They are the permanent “beach underclass.”

The scary thing is that there were children out there who were getting used to being part of that underclass. Some of them had never lived any other way. So now we are hearing about kids who actually yearn to leave the shelters and go back to the beach. They don’t like the crowding and the rules. They’d rather be homeless. You heard me. They’d rather be homeless. And that is unacceptable.

The argument has been made that homelessness is a social ill that should have been addressed legislatively. I agree - in theory. But reality is something else. Our state and city lawmakers did not address the illness, not adequately. It was allowed to fester for years until, finally, we could no longer ignore it. The illness had become a full-blown plague.

And if that’s not an emergency, what is?

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