Mayor Kirk Caldwell, in his first state-of-the-city speech this morning, said he is pushing a "Housing First" initiative to address homeless issues on Oahu that will focus on placing people chronically without shelter into homes first before addressing other problems they may be experiencing such as joblessness, drug use or mental illness.
Caldwell, in an advanced copy of his first state-of-the-city speech at Mission Memorial Auditorium, said that without having the basic need of housing in place, "Can you imagine how hard it must be to get better, to get some stability in your life? By focusing on housing first, we can get the homeless off our streets, parks, bus stops, and doorways, and return these areas to the public."
While many homeless are already in shelters, there are many visible in Waikiki, Chinatown and other parts of urban Honolulu, Caldwell said. "For the near-term, we need to find a temporary solution to get people off of the streets, out of the parks, and to places where they will receive safe shelter and social services."
Caldwell said newly appointed Housing Director Jun Yang will work with Community Services Director Pam Witty-Oakland and her staff and state Coordinator on Homelessness Colin Kippen "to develop immediate, mid-range and long-term plans for combating homelessness."
No cost estimates or other specifics were mentioned, although Yang and Witty-Oakland have previously stressed the need to work closely with the not-for-profit and private sectors to address homelessness concerns.
"We need to expand our Housing First initiative and find other innovative alternatives that can serve our needs until we are able to provide more low-income and work force housing for our people," Caldwell said.
Caldwell that he will also sign Bill 7 (2013), which would make it tougher to place tents or other objects on city sidewalks for long periods, if approved by the City Council.
"The law we are working with today, the Stored Property Ordinance, is a first step," Caldwell said. "But, the public should know that every time the Department of Facility Maintenance removes property from the sidewalks, it costs around $15,000 for two days of work – one day to tag and the next day to remove," the mayor said. "We need to approach this serious and growing problem with compassion, and I am making it a top priority."
Caldwell also announced a push to make Honolulu an "age-friendly" city in coordination with AARP Hawaii.
The city will develop a plan of action to be implemented over the next three years. "We need to devote more resources to serve our kupuna, and going forward, we need to make sure that our planning, our infrastructure, our transportation services, our roads and our streets, are more age-friendly," Caldwell said.
Examples include improving HandiVan service and making it easier to obtain permits for home improvements to help aging-in-place, the mayor said.
During his speech, Caldwell also re-emphasized his five priorities for Honolulu.
The continued restoration of bus routes eliminated last year and an ambitious plan to pour $150 million into repaving roads are tops on the list for Caldwell, who took office Jan. 2.
The mayor also brought up his administration’s commitment to build a second "digester"todayat the Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant and plans to repair and improve Thomas Square and other city parks.
This year’s speech is somewhat unusual in that it is coming three months into the new year. Typically, Honolulu mayors have delivered their speeches in February, partly to unveil their agendas in advance of submitting their budgets to the City Council. Budgets are required to be delivered by March 1.