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Economic recovery relies on supporting homeless

By Jay Fidell

LAST UPDATED: 3:42 a.m. HST, Apr 12, 2011

Although it’s hard to get a bead on the economy these days, for many of us the sea change seems to be trending down. Unless we can somehow jump out of the pot, like the proverbial frog we’ll be unwittingly boiled in this recession.

As if the Great Recession and the end of earmarks weren’t enough, the tsunami goes further. Japan tourists were 20 percent of our 7 million visitors, but that’s no more. The Council on Revenues is worried, and the Legislature is wrestling with a $1.3 billion deficit. Stand by for more pay cuts and tax increases.

Last week we read that oil would reach $200 and gas at the pump would reach $6 within five years. This means less money coming in, more money going out. Oil increases undermine tourism. They also make everything more expensive, further reducing our disposable income. Some of us aren’t faring very well.

Wishing it’s temporary won’t help. Like the departure of the Japanese in the 1990s, it’s not temporary, and it is redefining our economy and quality of life.

Forget about the new car, house and trip to Paris. Get used to being on the wrong side of an increasing income disparity and shrinking middle class.

This is an economy where we work too hard to pay the rent or mortgage, where our aspirations soften as we age and where the government nickels and dimes us but still can’t fix the potholes.

We used to have more millionaires per capita than other states, but now our economy is generating more homeless instead. And homelessness is not limited to the homeless — others will follow soon.

In a recent Star-Advertiser article, we heard more hapless stories about the homeless. For everyone who falls out of the system, our economy shrinks further. This crisis makes us look Third World to tourists, APEC and ourselves. We’re raising a generation of homeless children, and theirs is a shame on all of us.

Some say these people want to be homeless, but that’s a rationalization. Nobody wants to be homeless. This isn’t Walden Pond or Taylor Camp. Our way of life depends on collaborative economic activity. We can’t afford to have breadwinners drop out of our economy and become streetside eyesores.

Actually, the thousands of homeless are the canary in our coal mine, the measuring rod of our real economy. The increase in their numbers and alienation stands as a billboard of our economic failure. How can we attend to other issues while they’re out there as a constant reminder of our inability?

We must identify and incentivize them into rebuilding their lives. It’s a condition of fixing everything else. If they don’t like the shelters, let’s change the model.

Hats off to Gov. Neil Abercrombie for releasing funds to kick off the New Day Work Projects initiative, and to state Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland for her efforts at finding vacant rental units and acquiring property that can be used for permanent housing for the homeless and for those at risk. Let’s do everything we can do and spend whatever it takes. Yes, it’s that important.

As they go, we go. This is not just another budget debate. It’s Job One. We can’t make things right until we get them back in the boat.

It will require tough love by all branches of government and widespread support by the public. If we are to go forward, we need to bring the homeless back.

Some say that we can’t afford to help them, that we don’t have the money and should just keep them out of sight. But there for the grace of God go us. They are our fallen neighbors and friends, and our work force. For our own future, we need to get them off the street and deploy them in a new diversification.

If we help them, they’ll help us. If not, we’re all going to boil together.


Jay Fidell, a longtime business lawyer, founded ThinkTech Hawaii, a digital media company that reports on Hawaii’s tech and energy sectors of the economy. He can be reached at fidell@lava.net.

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