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Editorial | On Politics

Isle homelessness grows, but things stay the same

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Buried away on a quiet shelf on the second floor of the University of Hawaii’s Hamilton Library is a row of books and reports tracing Hawaii’s failed battle against homelessness.

These should be required reading for those in state government, and their stories should make you furious.

Just this week Gov. David Ige had a breakfast meeting with the Hawaii Publishers Association where, in response to a question, he reported having several meetings this week on the situation of the crowded tent city growing in Kakaako by the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center.

“We are meeting quite a lot. The challenge in Kakaako is the different landowners and different jurisdictions. It will require a comprehensive and coordinated response,” Ige said.

“So I have been meeting with all the players involved, trying to come up with a plan for what do we do in the immediate and what opportunities do we have.”

According to the research available in the Hamilton stacks, we attacked this problem in 1990 and apparently declared victory.

Armed with a 1990 SMS Research study that found homelessness on Oahu running between 5,833 and 6,362 on any given day, the State Homeless Concerns Committee met with Gov. John Waihee and his Cabinet “to spotlight the plight of the increasing numbers of single parents and children” who were out on the streets.

According to the comprehensive final report of Homeless Aloha, Inc., the former umbrella nonprofit organization, Waihee met with then-Mayor Frank Fasi to endorse a 500-person tent city at Aala Park.

The pair came up with “a five-year strategy which called for retaining all current permanent transitional units, construction of 500 additional temporary units and funding shelter/social service program for homeless families with children.”

A law was passed — the Homeless Families Assistance Act — and new powers were given to the director of human services “to establish and maintain homeless shelters.”

The Homeless Aloha wrap-up report written in 1994, however, says that “the fragmented approach results in small piecemeal actions with questionable results.”

Now cue up Ige’s response from this week. People are still talking about the same roadblocks.

In 1994, supporters pointed to a “fragmented approach,” and 21 years later, Ige bemoans the difficulty in “getting all the players together.”

Today’s glaring homelessness crisis has spawned its own social services niche, with studies and reports galore.

Poverty will not be solved with sound bites, and another big conference is not going to get children out of tents and into safe homes.

This is a 20-year problem — and while Ige sounds like he is on board and ready to take some unspecified action, is that much of a goal?

“We are definitely looking at immediate and then mid- and then long-term solutions for Kakaako, so hopefully it will be something soon,” Ige said in this week’s meeting.

The solution will come not with good intentions, new schematics or even blueprints; the solution comes when bulldozers are breaking ground for new affordable housing.

Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at

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