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State aims to clear out homeless

By Dan Nakaso

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 02:04 a.m. HST, May 18, 2011

  Craig T. kojima / ckojima@staradvertiser.com Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Marc Alexander, right, the state's coordinator on homelessness, announced a plan yesterday to deal with homeless people.

The Abercrombie administration gave itself 90 days yesterday to achieve a marked improvement in clearing homeless people from streets, beaches and parks in Waikiki and the rest of Honolulu's urban core.

The self-imposed deadline "puts the pressure on us to deliver," Gov. Neil Abercrombie said. "We intend to see to it that public space stays public. Public space is not there for private use."

HOMELESS STRATEGY

Gov. Neil Abercrombie proposed these nine steps in the state’s 90-Day Plan on Homelessness:

» Identify and assess for immediate help people who are chronically homeless in Waikiki and the city’s urban core.

» Support the chronically homeless and chronically mentally ill who need mental health treatment.

» Identify available substance abuse treatment services and gaps in services to maximize access for the chronically homeless.

» Identify and provide outreach as early as possible in places where homeless people are established or increasing in number.

» Coordinate community efforts to maintain clean public areas.

» Ensure that existing shelters are maximized for capacity and service.

» Provide information about sound relocation and financial planning, including Hawaii’s high cost of living, to individuals and families outside of the state who inquire about the availability of services.

» Establish the state Interagency Council on Homelessness.

» Educate the public about the most effective means to eliminate homelessness.

Abercrombie and his homelessness coordinator, Marc Alexander — surrounded by homeless services advocates representing dozens of organizations — unveiled a nine-point plan yesterday that they called a "significant step" to helping people find permanent housing and long-term job training.

Some of the nine points in the plan call for better coordination among service organizations and county and state governments, getting more community involvement and creating a state Interagency Council on Homelessness aimed at finding long-term solutions.

"We want to be able to say that a significant of number people have been housed and are no longer on the street," Alexander said.

"We know this is a challenge. We didn't decide, ‘Oh, Let's do something easy.' We're not into doing easy."

Alexander balked at the term "sweeps" to describe an upcoming plan to remove homeless people from Waikiki and the urban core in the next 90 days.

Instead, Alexander pointed to an earlier example this year in which several groups worked together to identify shelter and services for an estimated 100 people in Kakaako near the University of Hawaii's John A. Burns School of Medicine.

Twenty-five people who had been living in tents on sidewalks near the medical school moved into the Next Step Shelter in Kakaako.

Hawaii has an estimated 6,000 people in need of shelter every night, with the overwhelming majority on Oahu, Alexander said. A more precise survey of the homeless population is expected to be released next week.

Abercrombie's nine-point plan relies on existing resources and does not require new government spending, though Abercrombie and Alexander hope to generate private and federal contributions.

The final point in the plan is aimed at getting dozens of churches and other organizations to stop feeding homeless people across the islands, which Alexander said merely draws more homeless people to specific areas.

This weekend, Alexander plans to address two services at Calvary by the Sea Lutheran Church in Aina Haina, where volunteers serve 2,000 meals per month to homeless people.

Alexander plans to meet with church members to brainstorm different ideas to help find permanent housing solutions for homeless people.

"They know what they're doing isn't really working because they're getting more homeless, not less homeless," Alexander said.

"We need to do something different, but I don't know (what it is) yet."

The 90-day window that opened yesterday ends on Aug. 17 — barely three months before November's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Waikiki, which will draw 20,000 attendees and the leaders of 21 APEC member nations, including President Barack Obama.






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