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Wednesday, April 16, 2014         

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Lawmakers told of plight of homeless

It will take more than shelters to help those who live on the street, the state advocate says

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

POSTED:


The state's leading homeless advocates promised yesterday to redouble their efforts and work more cooperatively to get more people off the streets.

The pronouncements were made during a state Senate hearing held jointly by eight committees, led by Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland's Human Services Committee.

It was the first time the leaders had gathered publicly to discuss the issue since Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle picked new people to lead the fight against homelessness at the state and city levels.

Despite fiery vows, however, there were few clear solutions discussed.

Marc Alexander, recently appointed the governor's coordinator of homelessness, said both the leaders and ordinary citizens of the state have reached a point where "there's this sense of urgency that we must do something together, and this leads to a greater sense of conviction."

Alexander said Abercrombie's decision to create the homeless coordinator's position is further proof of the governor's commitment to the issue.

Better drug treatment programs, more affordable housing, especially for those in the 30 percent of median or lower income level, and programs that address parenting and job training are critical to solving the homeless dilemma, he said.

"Putting up shelters alone will not solve the problem," he said.

A state-funded survey that aims to get a better fix on how many homeless there are in Hawaii is expected to be finished by the end of the year.

Generally speaking, there are about 15,000 people annually who fall into homelessness at some point during a given year, and there are about 6,000 homeless on any given day of the year, said Sandy Miyoshi, administrator of the state's Homeless Programs Office.

The state spends about $14 million annually on homeless programs and an additional $4.5 million in federally funded Temporary Assistant to Needy Families funds and $2.5 million in federal Department of Housing and Urban Development funds.

Several nonprofit social services providers talked about the correlation between poverty and homelessness, noting that only a small portion of the rental market is within reach of most people without a roof.

Denise Wise, executive director of the Hawaii Housing Authority, said her agency charges families rent based on 30 percent of their gross income minus qualifying expenses.

Of 9,800 families on the agency's waiting list, more than 97 percent earn 30 percent or less of the median income. A two-income family in that position can spend no more than $550 per month on rent, based on the 30 percent gross requirement, Wise said.

Fair market rent for a one-bedroom unit is $1,396, she said. The differential "clearly displays the disparity between income and rent," she said.

Chun Oakland said after the meeting that bridging the gap described by Wise is a critical issue that the state, led by Alexander, needs to address.






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