Hawaii Legislators to Visit Homeless

What better way to learn about the homeless epidemic on Oahu than to visit the homeless themselves? That’s the thinking of three members from the Hawaii House of Representatives. Tomorrow, at noon, Reps. Tom Brower (vice chair of the Human Services Committee), John Mizuno (chair of the Human Services Committee) and Rida Cabanilla (chair of the Housing Committee) will attend a planned meeting with local homeless residents in Kapiolani Park near the Honolulu Zoo.

“It’s important to have our lawmakers come out and actually see the living conditions, and to hear directly from the homeless on what works or doesn’t work,” stated Brower.  Brower hopes he and his fellow representatives can further educate themselves on the plights homeless people currently face. He also wants to raise awareness and gauge support to establish homeless “safe zones.”

This past legislative session, Brower introduced House resolution 62, which was adopted by the House. The resolution urges the Hawaii Housing Authority to create safe zones where the homeless can stay overnight. Brower explains that these areas—such as a park, field or areas near existing homeless shelters—will designate where homeless people have the right to camp and live. The zones will also include basic amenities such as portable toilets.

The zones are also meant to assure the community and law enforcement that homeless people will be in certain areas rather than dispersed island wide. Brower says the current process of kicking them out of one area, such as Kapiolani Park for example, just to have them make camp along the Waianae coastline doesn’t alleviate homelessness.

“Homelessness will always be a problem,” he acknowledges, adding that there are more than 4,000 homeless individuals in the state, and the majority of them are on Oahu. He says there will never be enough affordable housing or homeless shelters for the homeless population. Moreover, many homeless people prefer to camp on the beach or in a park.

In addition, Brower says the safe zone will put homeless people closer to service providers. “There are organizations that are willing to provide this type of service to the homeless,” he says. Organizations such as Hawaiian Hope, a nonprofit, the Waikiki Neighborhood Board and the Waianae Community Outreach testified in support of the resolution.

There is no timeline for creating these safe zones; Brower hopes that the incoming mayor or governor will draft a plan—and get community input—to establish areas where the homeless can safely stay. Gov. Linda Lingle opposed the resolution and the Mayor’s office did not respond. But says Brower, “This is our best idea. I don’t see any other way.”

 UPDATE 7/15/10: Members from the House of Representatives will hold an informational briefing this morning, Thursday, at 10 a.m. at the state Capitol. The House Committees on Housing and Human Services will address homelessness in Hawaii and discuss Act 212, a new law regarding the Housing First Pilot Program. The program would provide housing for the chronically homeless, including those who have a mental illness, a drug addiction or both. Representative Brower says he also hopes to incorporate the discussions from Tuesday’s talk story with the homeless folks that took place at Kapiolani Park. Olelo will broadcast the informational briefing; you can watch it on channel 53, or via a live stream cast on the website.