BY BARRY FUKUNAGA – Four years after kicking homeless families out of Ala Moana Beach Park leaving them with nowhere to go during one of the worst rainy seasons in recent memory, Mayor Mufi Hannemann is now holding a forum on homelessness.
It’s about time the Mayor stepped up – even though it’s evident that he is only doing so because he is running for Governor.
In 2006, Hannemann evicted homeless families from Ala Moana Beach Park in order to paint some pavilions and spruce up the park to prepare for Honolulu’s Centennial Celebration. There was little compassion for the nearly 200 homeless, including many children, and virtually no thought on the part of the City in trying to find a meaningful solution to the worsening homeless crisis on O‘ahu.
His actions were repeated in the following months at beaches and parks along O‘ahu’s Leeward Coast, and they continue today in Waikiki and around the island.
While parks and beaches are meant for the enjoyment the public, and should not be used for temporary or long-term homeless refuge, evicting the homeless without having a plan to ensure they have a safe place to go or plans that address the results of evictions, as Hannemann has done for the past four years, shows a lack of compassion and poor leadership.
Solving the homeless problem has always been regarded as a city and county issue. This is true across the country, where mayors of major cities as well as small towns assume the responsibility of addressing homelessness in their jurisdictions.
Mayor Hannemann shirked his responsibility and insisted homelessness is a State problem because the City does not have the resources or expertise in this area.
Yet at the same time, his counterparts on the neighbor islands saw things differently. They showed leadership and took on the homeless challenge working in partnership with the State and community.
Former Mayor Alan Arakawa of Maui and the late Mayor Bryan Baptiste of Kaua‘i worked collaboratively with the State and reached agreements with the Lingle-Aiona Administration to use State land and State expertise to help resolve some of their homeless challenges. As a result, Kaua‘i opened its first emergency homeless shelter in November 2007, followed a month later by a transitional housing facility. The Administration also offered the State’s resources to former Mayor Harry Kim to help him address homelessness on the Big Island.
Rather than getting to the root of the problem and focusing on solutions to help the homeless, as other mayors did, Hannemann has bent over backwards to find ways to evict the homeless from public areas, chasing them from one place to another in an endless cycle of cat and mouse. The latest tactic – ban shopping carts and tents from public parks.
Yet the City is surprised when homeless camps pop up in new areas where homeless never used to frequent, like has happened recently behind Waipahu High School.
Back in March 2006, realizing Hannemann lacked the will, ability and heart to tackle the difficult homeless crisis on O‘ahu, the State stepped forward to lead the charge.
Within six days of the being kicked out of Ala Moana Beach Park by Hannemann, the homeless families had a safe place to stay at the Next Step Shelter in Kaka‘ako. Since opening, the facility, which is operated by nonprofit homeless service providers, has served close to 1,400 homeless individuals. Of these, more than 650 have transitioned to more stable housing.
Over the past four years, the State, working with community partners, has also opened six other emergency shelters and transitional facilities on O‘ahu, including the Onelau‘ena transitional shelter in Kalaeloa, Waipahu Lighthouse Outreach shelter, Pai‘olu Ka‘iāulu transitional facility at the old Wai‘anae Civic Center, ahikolu ‘Ohana Hale ‘O Wai‘ānae transitional and affordable housing rental apartment project, Kumuhonua transitional housing, Kalaeloa, and Ulu Ke Kukui transitional housing. While offering shelter, these facilities also provide critical services to help families and individuals overcome barriers needed to break the cycle of homelessness so they can become self-sufficient.
In addition to addressing the emergency homeless situation, the Lingle-Aiona Administration has been focused on increasing the inventory of affordable rental and for-sale housing units statewide.
Over the past four years, since the opening of Next Step, the State and its county and private sector partners have added or are in the process of bringing online 2,463 units, including 1,983 affordable rentals and 480 affordable for-sale units.
These efforts are having an impact on O‘ahu and statewide.
The latest “point-in-time” statistics sent out a week ago from the State’s Homeless Management Information System shows that in fiscal year 2009, 4,043 persons were moved into permanent housing through State homeless programs. During the same year, 11,680 homeless people received services from eight outreach provider agencies throughout the State, and 9,483 homeless people utilized services at homeless shelters. What’s most concerning is 2,570 children lived for a time at one of Hawai‘i’s homeless shelters and 640 (349 of whom were 5 years old or younger) lived unsheltered.
The State is focused not just on providing shelter, but helping homeless individuals – including the parents and guardians of homeless children – to become independent and obtain housing they can afford in order to break the cycle of homelessness.
Unfortunately, throughout all of this, Hannemann has been noticeably absent and has shown little heart for the helping the homeless.
Now, the Mayor’s last-minute attempt to hold a forum on homelessness when it is politically expedient is nothing short of pathetic. It is an insult to the hundreds of social service organizations, churches, community groups and state workers who have been working collaboratively to help the homeless as they continue to be evicted from city parks with no alternative solutions offered by the city.
Barry Fukunaga is the Chief of Staff for the Office of the Governor