BY MIRIAM LANDRU – HONOLULU, HAWAII – There are more than 5,000 homeless people on Oahu – Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland estimates the population even higher at 14,000 – with many living in tents on sidewalks or in parks and beaches as well as in public bathrooms.
But with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference set to attract world leaders this November to Hawaii, Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Marc Alexander, the state’s homeless coordinator, have teamed up to enact a 90-day plan to quickly address a problem that has plagued Hawaii for years.
While the plan will be implemented statewide, the enforcement main focus leading up to the conference is Waikiki and urban core area of Honolulu.
“This is a step, it is not going to solve the issue of homelessness, but it will move us in the right direction,” said Alexander, a former Catholic priest who left the priesthood earlier this year to work as Abercrombie’s homeless czar.
The 90-day plan, which integrates community outreach programs, churches, government and non-profits to increase the services offered now to the homeless, utilizes nine objectives as part of the solution.
- “Identify and assess people who are chronically homeless for immediate services in Waikiki and the urban core of Honolulu.
- “Support the chronically homeless and chronically mentally ill who need mental health treatment.
- “Identify available substance abuse treatment services and gaps in services to maximize access for the chronically homeless in need.
- “Identify and provide outreach as early as possible where persons who are homeless are established or increasing in number.
- “Coordinate community efforts to maintain clean public areas.
- “Ensure that existing shelters are maximized for capacity and service.
- “Provide information about sound relocation and financial planning, including Hawaii’s high cost of living, to individuals and families outside the state who inquire about the availability of services.
- “Educate the general public about the most effective means to eliminate homelessness.”
“The work that is before us requires the cooperation of the entire community,” said Alexander.
The call-in system, which the state launched last month to help homeless primarily in emergency situations, will be used to help the community become more involved in identifying homeless.
No additional state funding is needed, because of the state’s collaboration with the private sector and Abercrombie’s plan to “attract more funds, federally or otherwise and from foundations.”
The first State Interagency Council on Homelessness will be established by executive order in the next few weeks, but the homeless coordinator believes it will not be a permanent fixture. “The goal is for homelessness to be gone, so then we’ll all just lose our jobs,” said Alexander.
The governor’s office cites 2007 data, that reports Hawai’i has twice as many people who are homeless per 100,000 people as the national average. “Almost one-third of the sheltered homeless are children; more than ten percent are veterans; and over 60 percent have lived in Hawai’i for more than ten years. Almost half of the families who are homeless include someone who is employed, and almost 30 percent are Hawaiian or part-Hawaiian,” a statement from the governor’s office said.
Hawaii’s strategy, based on a national plan to end homelessness, will focus mostly on the chronically homeless, or those who have been homeless for years and usually have a mental disorder or drug addiction, mainly living in Waikiki and downtown areas of Honolulu, such as Chinatown.
The statewide organizations involved in the 90-Day plan include Bridging The Gap, Waikiki Health Center, Waianae Community Outreach, City and County of Honolulu Department of Community Services, Institute of Human Services, Partners in Care, U.S. Vets and State Department of Human Services Homeless Programs.
To report a homeless person in need, the governor’s office said to contact the agencies below (email preferred) and provide the location and time when the homeless person is in the area and a detailed description of the homeless person.
· Waikiki Health Center’s Care-A-Van Program on O’ahu: (808) 791-9359; firstname.lastname@example.org
· HOPE Services on Hawai’i Island: (808) 935-3050; email@example.com
· Family Life Center on Maui: (808) 877-0880; firstname.lastname@example.org
· Kaua’i Economic Opportunity: call (808) 245.4077, x228; email@example.com
Visit the Governor’s website at http://hawaii.gov/gov for more information.