Antagonism between city and state leadership on the issue of dealing with homelessness appears to be easing. Both Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Mayor Peter Carlisle have promised to collaborate to deal with a growing problem that will never end in its entirety but can be made bearable.
Carlisle has praised the new governor’s appointment of Marc Alexander, the former vicar general of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hawaii, as his homelessness coordinator. Carlisle is budgeting $2.5 million to fund what he calls "an affordable housing partnership with the state." The city’s housing department closed its doors in 1998 but will be reopened in July, and the mayor says the agency will work with the state and private sector to help those in need.
Such cooperation would be a dramatically welcome change from the antagonism between Linda Lingle and Mufi Hannemann in their years of governor and mayor, respectively. When Hannemann forced the homeless out of Ala Moana Beach Park in 2006, Lingle said his reason — that the state was about to begin evicting the homeless from under the freeway at the Keehi Interchange — was "pure shibai."
In turn, Lingle was against setting up a homeless shelter at Sand Island because she believed public parks are for the general public. Her administration did take useful action in launching the Next Step shelter in Kakaako and five shelters along the Leeward Coast since 2006.
While the Lingle administration opposed legislation that would have enabled campsites for the homeless on city or state park land, Alexander is correct in saying that "putting up shelters alone will not solve the problem."
Laws now keep tents from being pitched in public parks, but a portion of Sand Island may be a workable location if provided with water, sanitation, security and social services. It is not in sight of business, tourist and residential areas but is close enough for the working homeless who reject what they see as shelter cells remote from central Honolulu, even if accessible to shuttles. After all, many of the homeless have jobs but cannot afford rent.
About 15,000 people annually are homeless in the state at least part of the year and 6,000 are homeless at any given day, according to Sandy Miyoshi, administrator of the state’s Homeless Programs Office. Some areas have become de facto little tent cities, with the homeless staking out spots on the fringe parks or sidewalks or within unmarked parking areas.
In a state Senate multicommittee hearing last Thursday, Alexander said the problem has reached a "sense of urgency that we must do something together, and this leads to a greater sense of conviction." Success will require a concerted and cooperative effort by the city, state and social service providers, with politics put aside.