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Helping the homeless is welcome byproduct of preparing for APEC

By Cynthia Oi

LAST UPDATED: 8:29 p.m. HST, Oct 20, 2011

Whoops, it's time to clean house. Company's coming.

Not just your everyday fun-sun-surf tourists, important to Hawaii as they are, but big-time guests.

In November, about two dozen top government officials from China, Japan, Korea, Australia, Canada, Singapore, Brunei, Peru and Vietnam, among others, trailed by about 1,000 in their delegations and an additional 2,000 members of the news media are expected to descend on the islands for a week of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings.

Save for native son Barack Obama, most of them won't be household names, but the presence of heads of states, trade and finance ministers, business and industry principals and potential investors has local leaders in a tizzy.

They recognize the opportunities the APEC sessions present and the need for Hawaii to put on a good show.

To that end, they are spending lots to money to tidy up.

At the airport, the international arrivals building is getting a facelift. A new canopy costing about $400,000 will shelter reception space for APEC people and later will be used for regular tour groups.

New floors, at $950,000, will go in at the baggage claim level. A renovated ceiling, fresh lighting, a rock garden, walkways, flight information displays and sign improvements will be installed at a toll of $650,000.

In Waikiki, the city is fixing up Kalakaua Avenue, replacing old sidewalk tiles and repaving sections of the main drag and some of the side streets in Hono-lulu's preeminent tourist destination. Price tag for the two projects totals $12.5 million.

The police department is getting ready, too. To provide security, the federal government has allocated about $20 million for local staffing, training and equipment, but HPD's work is only part of the massive program involving the FBI, the Secret Service, the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies needed to protect the conference and delegates as well as residents.

With those matters being attended to, authorities have turned to dealing with another problem — the thousands of homeless people that populate parks, beaches and open spaces across the islands.

Spiffed up sidewalks and smooth streets occupied by tents, shopping carts, bulging plastic trash bags and their owners don't present a portrait of Hawaii attractive to businesses and financiers.

Homelessness has been an intractable situation here for a long, long time, made even more difficult by the range of reasons people live on the streets, whether it be poverty, misfortune, physical and mental troubles or the desire to be free of responsibility.

The Abercrombie administration's effort to get help to homeless people by reporting them to agencies and centers that offer services seems on the surface to be callous cleansing of an unpleasant scene. It isn't.

Though the governor and his team acknowledge the plan's limitations and that APEC is part of the motivation, the start of a multidimensional endeavor to lend a hand to those who want and need one is an honorable investment, as beneficial to the state and its people as repaired roads, sidewalks and airports. The expense should not be begrudged.


Cynthia Oi can be reached at staradvertisecoi@r.com.

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