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City has no plans to move homeless from Waikiki for APEC, official says

By Dan Nakaso

LAST UPDATED: 7:08 p.m. HST, Oct 20, 2011

The city has no intention of moving homeless people from Waikiki for November's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, but parks and sidewalks could be temporarily cleared for cleanup, a city official told a group of state legislators Thursday.

Bridget Holthus, deputy director of the Department of Community Services, sought to allay concerns that city officials will begin removing the homeless as the leaders of 21 nations, including President Barack Obama, gather on Oahu.

"If people are thinking there's going to be some form of roundup and people are going to be arrested and relocated because they're homeless … that is not something the city would do," Holthus told the Star-Advertiser after a House briefing at the state Capitol. "Even if we wanted to do that, which we don't, it's not something you can do in this society."

The city Departments of Parks and Recreation and Facility Maintenance, however, might need to clean up parks and sidewalks for APEC, Holthus said.

"When they do that, they often have to ask people to temporarily move while they clean. It's not APEC-specific, though," she said.

Holthus was not immediately able to verify the departments' maintenance and cleaning schedules to see whether they were timed around the APEC conference.

She spoke at a House briefing seeking support for the creation of a homeless "safe zone" somewhere on Oahu to coincide with APEC.

Key legislators who are trying to create such a safe zone have gotten pledges of food but still have not found land or an organization to run the zone.

Instead of creating a safe zone, city officials prefer long-term solutions aimed at finding homeless people jobs and permanent housing, Holthus said.

"We're not interested in transferring the problem from Waikiki to some big tent cities," she said. "With limited government resources, we want to target the programs that have been most effective. (On the mainland) safe zones have not been the most successful in getting people permanently into a home.

Marc Alexander, the state's homeless coordinator, told House members there are fewer than 200 homeless people in Waikiki.

Alexander attended this month's National Conference on Ending Homelessness in Washington, D.C., and said that best practices included in Gov. Neil Abercrombie's 90-day homeless plan can end homelessness in Hawaii in 10 years.

"We want to do the right thing for the right reasons," Alexander said.

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