A measure before state lawmakers would launch a day laborer program to give Hawaii’s homeless alternatives to panhandling.
Temporary jobs through a work-for-a-day pilot project would put homeless individuals to work on public-service tasks such as litter cleanup and graffiti erasure under House Bill 1281, introduced by Rep. Chris Lee (D, Kailua-Lanikai-Waimanalo).
Similar programs in Albuquerque, N.M., and other cities around the country have proved successful.
“It’s a way for homeless individuals to be able to earn a few dollars, a meal, and step up for themselves,” Lee said. “More importantly, it is a tool that brings them into the network of social services that can be provided and puts them on the radar screen for the very first time like no other program has ever been able to do.”
Along with earned hourly wages, costs involved with mental health services and substance abuse treatment would be covered for chronically homeless workers in the program.
The program created by the bill would run for three years, until 2019.
Through its submitted testimony, the Department of Human Services expressed concerns about the potential cost of such a program. DHS also listed job training programs currently available, such as SEE (Supporting Employment Empowerment) Hawaii Work. However, SEE Hawaii Work assists only those homeless people who have children.
Catholic Charities Hawaii CEO Terrence Walsh Jr. provided testimony in support of HB 1281, saying, “Providing opportunities for homeless people to ‘work for a day’ can start the process out of homelessness while respecting the dignity and individual needs of each person. Daily money for basic living needs is critical for people on the streets.”
The jobs created by the bill would include a range of skills and tasks.
“Homeless people can work in any number of disciplines depending on what lifestyle they’ve had,” said Sen. Josh Green (D, Naalehu-Kailua-Kona), chairman of the Senate Committee on Human Services. “They just need help with their day-to-day lives to get it together.”
When asked whether housing should be prioritized over offering earned income, Lee said, “There is significantly greater cost to doing that as a sole strategy, and there’s no reason why we can’t do both at the same time.”
Per capita, Hawaii has the highest homelessness rate in the U.S. According to a news release from the governor’s office in 2015, 465 of every 100,000 Hawaii residents are homeless.
The Senate Committee on Human Services moved the bill forward Wednesday. It has since been referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor and the Senate Committee on Ways and Means for further review.