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Mayor blasted over homeless

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    Debbie Kim Morikawa, director of the city Department of Community Services, served as moderator yesterday for the Forum on Homelessness at Mission Memorial Auditorium. Among the panelists pictured are Darlene Hein, left, director of community services, Waikiki Health Center; Teresa Gonsalves, director of case management, Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center; Connie Mitchell, executive director, Institute for Human Services; Betty Lou Larson, former housing programs director, Catholic Charities of Hawaii; Marko Johnson, outreach case manager, US VETS-Hawaii; and Sophina Placencia, executive director, Waianae Community Outreach.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann yesterday brushed aside pointed criticism from the governor’s chief of staff on the city’s policy on homelessness, saying it’s a "laughable joke" to say the city hasn’t done enough to address the issue.

Gov. Linda Lingle’s chief of staff, Barry Fukunaga, criticized the mayor for holding a forum on homelessness yesterday, "four years after kicking homeless families out of Ala Moana Beach Park."

Fukunaga’s remarks were made in a commentary submitted to the Star-Advertiser yesterday for possible publication.

Fukunaga wrote, "It’s about time the mayor stepped up—even though it’s evident that he is only doing so because he is running for governor."

He also said Hannemann "shirked his responsibility" in regard to the homeless, and has shown "little heart" on the issue.

"Now, the mayor’s last-minute attempt to hold a forum on homelessness when it is politically expedient is nothing short of pathetic," Fukunaga said. "It is an insult to the hundreds of social service organizations, churches, community groups and state workers who have been working collaboratively to help the homeless as they continue to be evicted from city parks with no alternative solutions offered by the city."

Fukunaga said dealing with homelessness is regarded around the country as a local government issue, but that Hannemann "insisted homelessness is a state problem because the city does not have the resources or expertise in this area." The state responded by opening seven emergency shelters or transitional housing facilities since 2006, Fukunaga said.

Hannemann said Fukunaga’s statements are unfounded and false, calling the op-ed piece "mean-spirited" and "short-sighted."

"At the end of the day, it takes collaboration, not confrontation," he said, adding, "That’s the biggest laughable joke" to say the city hasn’t done enough to address homelessness. "We have done so much."

Meanwhile, homeless-service providers who attended the city’s forum on homelessness last night said Fukunaga’s comments weren’t helpful because they weren’t about finding solutions to homelessness.

"It’s easy to look at the past and say we could have and should have," said Darlene Hein, director of community services at Waikiki Health Center, which provides outreach to homeless people islandwide. The forum "is an opportunity to get together and look forward."

Pamela Menter, director of Safe Haven, a homeless shelter in Chinatown for the severely mentally ill, didn’t want to weigh in on Fukunaga’s commentary, but said she was glad to see so many providers at last night’s forum.

Dozens of providers, community members and policymakers attended the event at the Mission Memorial Auditorium near city hall.

"I’m just happy that something is being done," Menter said.

The back-and-forth between the state and the city comes as the number of homeless people on Oahu is up by about 15 percent—or 533 people—from 2009, according to a new "point-in-time" count.

Some 4,171 homeless people were counted on Oahu, 1,374 of whom were unsheltered.

About 87 percent of the unsheltered homeless were singles or couples.

Meanwhile, there were 2,797 people counted in shelters on Oahu, up 14 percent from the years before.

The increases on Oahu were offset by big decreases on the Big Island and Maui.

Altogether, the count—designed to represent a rough estimate of homeless people statewide at a given point in time—shows there are about 5,834 unsheltered and sheltered in the islands, a 1 percent increase from last year.

Both the state and city point out they’ve spent tens of millions of dollars on the homeless problem over the last several years, building shelters and bolstering homeless programs.

Debbie Kim Morikawa, director of the city Department of Community Services, said the city has especially tried to address the chronic homeless population.

"The city has continuously worked on this issue," said Morikawa, pointing to the River Street affordable-housing project geared to the chronically homeless that has been stalled by community opposition.

The point-in-time count showed about 86 percent of unsheltered homeless people on Oahu are chronically homeless, a definition that includes anyone who has been on the streets for more than a year. That’s up from 78.2 percent in 2009. Nationally, about 60 percent of people on the streets are chronically homeless, the city said.


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