State Rep. John Mizuno is chipping in $100 of his own money to buy a one-way plane ticket to send a homeless man back to Seattle and wants others to contribute, too.
Mizuno (D, Kamehameha Heights-Kalihi Valley-Fort Shafter) called his idea to send Gregory Reese to Seattle by the end of the week a "family reunification" program that will free up potentially thousands of dollars that could be spent on Hawaii’s own homeless.
"You don’t have to be a lawmaker to help our fellow people," Mizuno said yesterday.
Mizuno was joined by state Rep. Rida Cabanilla (D, Waipahu-Honouliuli-Ewa), who said, "It’s not like we’re dumping people back there. There has to be people eager and willing to have them back there, like Gregory. He has a father back there."
Mizuno and Cabanilla had backed an unsuccessful bill in the Legislature to create a pilot program that would initially spend $100,000 to ship homeless people to their hometowns, freeing them from relying on local resources.
Urban legends persist around the country of communities exporting homeless people, said John Fox, director of the Seattle Displacement Coalition. But Fox said he had never heard of elected officials using their own money to send a homeless person back.
Fox called the idea by Mizuno and Cabanilla "unbelievable," adding: "These are state legislators?
"You hear the occasional story of some small reactionary community somewhere wanting to put homeless people on buses," Fox said. "But I’ve never met or run into any homeless person or service provider who has assumed something like this has actually happened before."
Laura Lockard, spokeswoman for the Seattle City Council, said the proposal by Mizuno and Cabanilla runs counter to Seattle’s approach to its own homeless situation.
"We work to help them find jobs and find them places to live so that they’re not homeless anymore," Lockard said. "We’re committed in Seattle to helping people find their path if they’re transient or homeless due to economic situations."
Mizuno estimates it would cost $250 to $350 for a one-way ticket from Honolulu to Seattle – a price tag that Reese’s father cannot afford, Mizuno said.
After pledging $100, Mizuno asked people yesterday to contribute the remaining $150 to $250 by calling Help the Hawaii Homeless at 271-8054.
Reese, 39, arrived in Honolulu with job offers in construction and at a gym, he said.
"I wanted to come here because I was promised a job," Reese said. But both offers fell through.
With his father, Gregory Sr., struggling financially and suffering from lung cancer, Reese had no way to get home, he said.
"Gregory truly thought he could make it here, but he cannot," Cabanilla said.
Out of Oahu’s estimated 4,100 homeless population, there are potentially hundreds of others in Reese’s situation, Cabanilla said, including young women who are promised legitimate jobs but end up in prostitution.
"His case is not unique," Cabanilla said. "A lot of people don’t know how they can get back home."
An untold number then end up on costly public assistance that could run into the thousands if they require costly Medicaid treatments, Cabanilla said.
Tisha Woytenko, founder and executive director of Help the Hawaii Homeless, who will accept pledges to fly Reese back home, said the situation in Seattle for people like Reese is "good."
But Fox said it is a "myth" that Seattle provides enough resources for its homeless.
Whatever happens to Reese, his father is anxious for him to come home, Reese Sr. said by telephone yesterday.
"They’re trying to get me back in the next couple of days," Reese told his father.
"Delighted to have you back, son," Reese Sr. replied.