State House rolls out bills on homeless crisis
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Hawaii News

State House rolls out bills on homeless crisis

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / 2015

    State Rep. John Mizuno, pictured, chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, wants to resurrect proposals in dormant bills as well as introduce new ideas — such as offering a state lease to relocate the nearly 200-­person homeless encampment next to the Waianae Small Boat Harbor — to address homelessness on Oahu.

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To address homelessness, state Rep. John Mizuno, chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, wants to resurrect proposals in dormant bills as well as introduce new ideas — such as offering a state lease to relocate the nearly 200-­person homeless encampment next to the Waianae Small Boat Harbor known as Pu‘uhonua o Waianae.

“The whole state knows that a sweep (of Pu‘uhonua o Waianae) wouldn’t make sense,” Mizuno told the Hono­lulu Star-Advertiser. “We have people of great need who are homeless. We’ve got to be creative.”

Out of nine homeless-­related House bills introduced this session, only three remain active:

>> HB 2147 would create a pilot project that would refer alleged homeless criminals with mental health or substance abuse issues to appropriate help rather than arrest them. The pilot program would apply only to nonviolent, nonfelony offenses committed on state property on Oahu. The 2017 Point in Time Count homeless census found that 23 percent of Hawaii’s homeless have mental illnesses and 19 percent have substance abuse problems.

>> HB 2281 would create an “Ohana Zone Program” within the state Department of Human Services that would designate areas around the state where homeless people could live and would provide toilets, showers and other hygiene facilities; areas for food preparation; on-site child care; and transportation to school, jobs, medical appointments and other serv­ices not found in the Ohana Zone. The proposal adds more details to the previous concept of “Safe Zones” that Mizuno and state Rep. Tom Brower (D, Waikiki-­Ala Moana-­Kakaako) have been pushing for more than a decade.

>> HB 2014 would require identifying state lands to be used for a minimum of 8,000 units for homeless people within two years. HB 2014 is scheduled to be heard in the House Finance Committee Tuesday.

>> HB 2753 also would create an “Ohana Zone Program” but has fewer details than HB 2281.

Mizuno led an informal discussion Thursday at the state Capitol to figure out which ideas in the stalled bills should be inserted into each of the three remaining House bills before they cross over to the Senate next month.

“There are ideas that passed away that we need,” Mizuno told the Star-Advertiser at the end of the meeting, which included representatives from The Queen’s Medical Center, Aloha United Way, the nonprofit organization Waianae CARE Inc. and the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association.

The ideas include proposals from HB 1761 that would create a pilot program to divert regular homeless patients who take ambulance rides to hospitals such as The Queen’s Medical Center, which Mizuno said spent $10 million in 2016 for “unnecessary ER visits by frequent flyers.”

“It’s not only Queen’s, but all the hospitals,” Mizuno said. “They can’t turn people away, but every day they’re losing money. It’s crazy, absolutely crazy.”

He also would like state funding for up to $2 million to help a program that has flown 424 homeless people from Oahu, Maui and Kauai back to the mainland since December 2014, as long as the homeless person pays 50 percent of the airfare and has someone on the mainland to welcome them, according to Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of the HLTA.

“Only four or five” of the homeless people from the mainland returned to Hawaii, Hannemann said, representing fewer than 1 percent of all of the “repatriated” homeless people.

The program is run by the Institute for Human Services on Oahu, Kauai Economic Opportunities Inc. and Maui Family Life Center and is supported by donations from the HLTA.

“We in the private sector have been funding homeless programs for the last four years to the tune of $2 million,” Hannemann told Mizuno. “It is a program that has worked very well.”

Mizuno also is interested in inserting new language into each of the three remaining House bills that would require consultation by any community affected by new homeless legislation.

Hannemann, a former Honolulu mayor, told Mizuno “that we need to mention that communities affected need to be consulted,” adding, “The last thing you want to do is put the homeless in a situation where the community flat-out doesn’t want it. Somehow word it that they’re not going to be left out by decisions made top down and they’re the last to know. That’s the big thing we’ve struggled with for years, NIMBY-ism.”

Mizuno was particularly excited about the possibility of offering a state lease to a nonprofit group set up by Twinkle Borge, leader of the Pu‘uhonua o Waianae encampment.

Pu‘uhonua o Waianae was once viewed as a model for what a government-sanctioned “safe zone” could look like. But state officials worry about damage to environmental and cultural resources on the 19.5 acres of state Department of Land and Natural Resources land beneath the encampment — and reports of vandalism, poor hygiene, refuse and a spike in water use next door at the boat harbor.

Mizuno embraced a Star-Advertiser story this month in which Hawaiian sovereignty leader Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele said his lease of more than 55 acres of state land in Waimanalo provides a road map of how state officials could offer a similar lease to Borge to relocate the homeless residents of Pu‘uhonua o Waianae from the oceanfront property.

For 15 months between 1993 and 1994, Kanahele led an occupation of Makapuu Beach Park that included 300 people, mostly Native Hawaiians.

“Twinkle would be tailor-made to do what Bumpy did,” Mizuno said. “With 200 people plus, including about 150 dogs, if she does a Bumpy-type housing project, it’s a win.”


CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this story and the print edition version Monday omitted HB 2014, which would require identifying state lands to be used for a minimum of 8,000 units for homeless people within two years.


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