AS OUR economy begins to improve, Honolulu continues to face challenges regarding homelessness and the need to carefully balance assistance and compassion with ensuring that public spaces are safe, healthy and welcoming to everyone.
The Hannemann administration will continue to be reasonable and comprehensive in addressing these concerns, ensuring that no one is unjustly targeted or left without opportunities for assistance.
But as we strive to be compassionate, we will also continue to be firm in performing our duty and obligation to comply with and enforce existing laws. Our public parks, bus stops, sidewalks and other properties and facilities belong to everyone, and we can’t allow actions that create an unsanitary environment or deprive others of access, mobility or peace of mind.
With help from the City Council, we’ve made tremendous progress in our parks and solved most problems with illegal tents, shopping carts and unpermitted overnight camping. Most city parks on the Leeward Coast are now cleaner and safer than they’ve been in years, and we’re continuing to address illegal camping issues that remain in a few areas.
While taking these actions, the city has continued to support long-term housing solutions and special services to assist the poor, along with people suffering from addictions and mental illness. Restoring our beach parks and reopening them for recreational use has provided the motivation many homeless people needed to accept available help and begin to turn their lives around.
BUT WE cannot solve these problems alone. With the plethora of resources that the state has for health, housing and human services, we need active participation and leadership from the state. The city on its own has worked very hard to build and strengthen effective partnerships with people and organizations that provide vital services to the homeless, and to support their efforts.
That’s why it’s so disappointing that the Lingle-Aiona administration and others attempted to blatantly politicize this issue by sending inaccurate and inflammatory statements to the media just hours before the city convened a special forum to discuss the complex issue of homelessness in our community.
Although the state’s Homeless Programs Branch head was unable to attend, the Director of Community Services gave her presentation and representatives from several other branches of state government were there and demonstrated that are willing to work with the city.
To harshly judge and wrongly criticize the motivations of this forum was very disrespectful to the many sincere and hard-working people, including service providers, who brought their insight and experience to the event with the intent of working together more effectively to seek solutions.
This forum was convened by the city largely in response to concerns about increasing cynicism and callousness toward people experiencing homelessness, and the oversimplification of this complex issue.
Had the critics of the forum bothered to attend, they would have heard the two overriding themes that emerged: that the solution to homelessness is not more emergency shelters or transitional housing programs, but permanent affordable housing; and that we should focus more of our efforts on providing services and housing for the chronically homeless population.
THE CITY’S River Street Residences housing proposal addresses both these needs by providing long-term, affordable, supportive housing targeted to chronically homeless persons based on the Housing First model, which has proven successful in cities across the nation. We recognize that some in the community object to the River Street plan, we are sensitive to their concerns, and we will continue to work with them or any other community interested in participating in this solution.
The critics would also have heard Mayor Mufi Hannemann emphasize that it is patently unfair to expect the Leeward Coast alone to host all such housing opportunities. Other communities must be part of the solution.
One of the biggest challenges to developing affordable housing is assembling the necessary financing. In many cases, both the state and the city are needed to make these projects a reality. The focus should be on the partnerships and collaborative efforts between the public, private, and non-profit sectors that are critical for developing these projects.
Rather than hurling invective, our focus must be on how to improve collaborative efforts between the city, state, service providers and nonprofit agencies in addressing the complex issue of homelessness that has been worsened by these challenging economic times.
WE CAN’T allow irresponsible and antisocial people to take over our public spaces. But we can’t turn our backs on those who need our help, and simply wish that they would disappear. We must strike a reasonable and compassionate balance. We must be pono. And, as Mayor Hannemann continually advocates, we must bring people together in order so solve our toughest problems.