After a half-dozen people answered a plea to chip in for a one-way ticket to fly a homeless man back to Seattle, state Rep. John Mizuno now hopes to create a program to send more homeless people back to the mainland.
"It’s been an overwhelming response," Mizuno (D, Kamehameha Heights-Kalihi Valley-Fort Shafter) said yesterday. "If we can send one person, why not five or six? If we can send five or six, why not 10?"
Gregory Reese will board an early-morning flight today that will take him home to Seattle via Maui.
Reese, 39, became homeless when two job offers here fell through. His father has lung cancer and cannot afford a ticket to bring him back, Reese said.
Mizuno calls his idea "family reunification" and said it could free thousands of dollars in homeless services that could otherwise be spent on Hawaii’s own homeless people.
Before sending any more homeless individuals to the mainland, Mizuno first wants guarantees that they have family to take them in.
"We don’t want people seeing this as a free ticket," Mizuno said. "We don’t need Hawaii to be seen as a joke. We will work on ensuring checks and balances."
On Monday, Mizuno offered $100 of his own money toward Reese’s one-way airfare and asked island residents to cover the rest of the cost, which he estimated at as much as $350.
Denise Sakai, an independent hairdresser from Aiea, went Mizuno one better, buying a $299 plane ticket online for Reese.
"I read it about it in the paper," Sakai said. "I sat down for 10 minutes, and the article just popped in my face and I was really touched that he just wanted to go home to be with his dad."
Sakai’s husband, Wesley, is a mechanic for Hawaiian Airlines, and she first considered letting Reese use one of Wesley’s "buddy passes." But a buddy pass could not guarantee Reese’s itinerary, so Sakai bought the ticket.
"I’ve just been very blessed with good clients," said Sakai, who is offering free haircuts to other homeless people planning to return to the mainland. "I was just able to do it. I wanted him to get home safely."
Reese planned to spend last night at Honolulu Airport, then board the 5:22 a.m. Hawaiian Airlines flight to Kahului. After a 6 1/2 -hour layover, he will board Alaska Airlines Flight 858, which arrives in Seattle at 9:30 p.m.
Mizuno plans to research whether frequent fliers can donate their miles to send off other homeless people.
"This is quite promising," he said.