Even after he was attacked at a Kakaako homeless encampment last month, state Rep. Tom Brower said he continues to meet — and help — homeless people.
"An act of kindness helps," said Brower (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana-Kakaako).
The city’s new "sit-lie" ban has considerably reduced the number of homeless people in Brower’s Waikiki district over the last few months, he said, "and I’m grateful for that."
But sit-lie also has pushed Waikiki’s homeless into neighboring communities, where Brower often talks to them in places such as Kaimuki and Moiliili during his walks to and from the state Capitol.
Over the nine years that he has been visiting homeless encampments while in office, Brower said homeless people in general have become "hardened and aggressive."
But the June 29 attack on him was the first time he’s felt threatened.
Brower gained national attention in 2013 for smashing homeless carts with a sledgehammer. These days, with multiple landowners and various jurisdictions allowing places like Kakaako to explode with tents and tarpaulins, Brower said he’s using a softer approach to encourage homeless people to move somewhere else.
"I’m always refining and trying to improve on the methods," he said.
He’s the first to acknowledge that moving homeless people out of one area does not provide a real solution. Brower’s long-term answer is the same one that he and state Rep. John Mizuno have been proposing for years: the creation of so-called "safe zones" where homeless people would receive a full range of social services.
But until the concept gains traction, Brower promises to continue to get down to the "micro-level" to find small victories.
A few weeks ago, in response to complaints, Brower said he befriended a homeless man who was habitually sleeping in the entryway of a walk-up apartment along the Ala Wai Canal in his district.
"He had been there a while and was freaking people out," Brower said. "The neighbors were alarmed but the police couldn’t do anything because he was on private property" and officers apparently could respond to a complaint only from the property owner.
So at 1 a.m., Brower spoke to the man and they walked over to 7-Eleven where Brower bought him a breakfast of sausage, eggs and rice.
"He agreed not to sleep at the apartment entrance," Brower said. "In appreciation, I told him I would buy him meals when I saw him in the future, which I have."
Brower calls homelessness "the issue of our time."
"Government can win wars and overcome any issue we face," he said. "But for some reason it’s not having the impact it should have when it comes to homelessness. If I agreed to be in public service and I ask people to vote for me, then I have to be willing to get involved in the complaints they have. And the No. 1 complaint is homelessness."