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Monday, December 22, 2014         

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Homelessness high on agenda, state says

A legislator describes growing concerns over the homeless in tourist and retail areas

By Allison Schaefers

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Marc Alexander, the governor's newly appointed coordinator on homelessness, reaffirmed Gov. Neil Abercrombie's desire to end homelessness. Alexander spoke at a briefing before the State House Committee on Tourism.

Alexander, who is expected to start his Cabinet position later this week, joined Darlene Hein of Waikiki Care-A-Van and Tony Ching of the Hawaii Community Development Authority yesterday in giving lawmakers an overview on homelessness in Oahu's tourist and retail zones.

"The governor wants to eliminate homelessness in a way that respects the dignity of each human person," Alexander said.

Lawmakers also have grown increasingly concerned about the growing visibility of homelessness in Waikiki, Kakaako and Ala Moana, said Rep. Tom Brower, who represents that district and is chairman of the House Committee on Tourism. A variety of bills and resolutions are being considered this session to address the problem, said Brower, who was a driving force last year behind the adoption of House Resolution 62, which called for state and city administrators to create homeless camps away from popular tourist or retail spots.

"The hotel general managers are telling me that homelessness is one of their main problems," he said.

While state lawmakers cannot force city administrators to follow the resolution, Brower said he is hoping they will consider establishing an approved homeless campsite near the Kakaako Next Step shelter.

Visitors and residents cannot fully enjoy Hawaii unless government acts to remove the homeless from areas of aesthetic, cultural and economic importance, he said. Shelters and affordable housing are not viable options for every homeless person, Brower said.

"We can either designate areas where the homeless can be, or do nothing and let them continue to be everywhere," he said. "If enough safe zones are created, the homeless cannot say they have no place to go and continue monopolizing our parks and sidewalks."

Alexander, who resigned from his post as vicar general of the Catholic Church in Hawaii to support Abercrombie's homelessness objectives, did not comment on Brower's safe-zone proposal.

However, he said he has begun meeting with state and federal agencies, community programs, foundations and the business community to find opportunities and solutions to address homelessness.

"We've gotten to a point in our state where those that have been working with the homeless know that we need a really coordinated strategic problem," Alexander said.

Rule changes have caused the population of homeless people in Waikiki to decrease from a year ago; however, Hein said that Waikiki Care-A-Van continues to serve between 150 and 200 homeless clients in key zones. Many are mentally ill or have come from outside of Hawaii, she said.

"On any given week we've got 10 to 15 new people off the plane from the mainland living homeless in Waikiki," Hein said.

The homeless population in Kakaako has spiked, too, said Ching, whose organization oversees development in this growing retail and industrial corridor. Earlier this week an estimated 100 homeless campers lined both sides of Ilalo Street, makai of Ala Moana Boulevard near the University of Hawaii's John A. Burns School of Medicine.

"Many of them are new to Hawaii," Ching said. "Some of them are chronically homeless. I've met individuals who indicated that they have been homeless since high school, and that was 30 years ago."

Ching favors outreach programs like job training, social services and rental assistance programs to reduce homelessness.

 






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