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Donations sent 5 homeless people back to the mainland

LAST UPDATED: 1:35 a.m. HST, Apr 14, 2011

Question: Whatever happened to the program to send homeless people back to the mainland?

Answer: There’s a waiting list of 25 homeless people who want to be reunited with their families on the mainland after an effort led by state Rep. John Mizuno (D, Kalihi) returned four adults and a toddler to Washington state, Texas, New Jersey and Southern California beginning in July.

All of the money for their airfares came from donations, including money from Mizuno.

But the account is now empty, said Tisha Woytenko, executive director of Help the Hawaii Homeless, who arranged transportation for the first five homeless people.

Mizuno believes the Legislature has a good chance of passing a bill this session that would set up an unspecified fund to pay for a formal program that would send mainland homeless people back home — as long as someone on the mainland will commit to housing them.

An earlier version of the bill that was killed in 2009 was seen as insensitive and “distasteful,” Mizuno said.

“Some legislators thought we were throwing homeless people away,” Mizuno said.

After some of the homeless people and their families on the mainland were featured in the media about being “reunited,” Mizuno said the perception of the program changed in the Legislature.

“Because of the news coverage we received, legislators have a new perspective,” Mizuno said. “They now see it as reducing homelessness and reuniting families. We weren’t aggressive in explaining that component until last year and then the naysayers started to come on board.”

Mizuno contributed $100 to send the first person — Gregory Reese Jr. — back home to Seattle in July to be with his father.

Reese remains out of work but is believed to be still living with his father, Woytenko said.

It cost about $1,200 to buy two tickets to fly Tiara Reed and her 2-year-old son to Newark, N.J., in the fall. Reed now has an office job that pays $10 an hour, Woytenko said.

Since George Vonner was reunited with his wife in Southern California in October, there have been no more flights.

But Woytenko is hopeful the Legislature will come up with money this session for a more formal program.

“We’re happy that this has gotten closer than it ever has,” she said.


This article was compiled by Star-Advertiser reporter Dan Nakaso. Suggest a topic for “Whatever Happened To …” by writing Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 7-210, Honolulu 96813; call 529-4747; or email

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