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Advocates fret homelessness, housing funding

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    The homeless camp has grown in the last couple of weeks in the area off Ala Moana Blvd, at Kakaako Waterfront Park.

Gov. David Ige’s plans to address Hawaii’s homelessness crisis and affordable-housing shortage are competing for funding with other priorities in the Legislature, and some advocates are concerned that lawmakers are not setting aside enough money to solve those pressing problems.

The state budget passed by the House reduced the amount of money Ige wants to spend for affordable-housing development, prompting concern about the Legislature’s commitment to making a dent in the decades-old problem. The Senate Ways and Means Committee will make its own changes when it takes up the budget Tuesday.

“With the extreme crisis in homelessness and affordable housing, we feel that the funding at the level the governor requested is almost the minimum that should be allocated,” said the Rev. Bob Nakata, a former state legislator pushing for progress on those issues.

The House rejected several budget items on homelessness programs, including $2 million for homeless outreach services, $3 million for the Housing First program that helps long-term homeless people, and $2 million to help people with up to three months of rental subsidies.

Bills are moving separately through the Legislature for several of the homelessness programs Ige suggested, and the dollar amounts attached to them will be decided closer to the end of the session, said Rep. Sylvia Luke, chairwoman of the House Finance Committee. Plus, there were many competing requests for funding, she said.

“A lot of the legislative leaders, they have needs in their communities which are really about improving infrastructure for the classroom, and a lot of the repairs that have been backlogged in their school systems,” Luke said.

Taking the homelessness programs out of the budget allows for more substantive discussion in committees that deal with social services. But it also indicates that those programs might not become part of the state’s budget plan.

“The importance of having them in the budget is really because it shows a commitment, a long-term commitment, by our government to maintain these programs,” said Scott Fuji, executive director of PHOCUSED, a nonprofit that serves the state’s most needy.

“Having them in these appropriation bills that are year-to-year gives a sense of frailty to our system, that we’re not taking these needs of our community seriously,” he said.

Ige asked for $75 million in bonds for the rental housing revolving fund, which gives low-interest loans to developers for construction of affordable rentals. The House reduced it to $25 million.

House members also cut Ige’s suggested $25 million to $12.5 million for the dwelling unit revolving fund, a similar program aimed at developing affordable homes for purchase. Again, Luke said those amounts could be boosted with separate bills.

Scott Morishige, the governor’s coordinator on homelessness, said in a statement that although the funding amounts have not been decided, he is hopeful lawmakers will advance those bills, which will provide the right services to address homelessness statewide.

Aside from the budget, a bill moving swiftly through the Legislature sets a goal of developing at least 22,500 affordable rental housing units over the next 10 years. Senate Bill 2561 was introduced by Jill Tokuda, chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

“Although it’s just a plan, we’re concerned that without the funding that I talked about, it may be like several other plans in the past and end up just sitting on the shelf,” said Nakata, the pastor.

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    • What do you think should be changed with welfare and SNAP? I think the state should eliminate general assistance which is the state funded welfare program for single adults. This contributes to he people coming here from the mainland.

        • That one is tough because TANF (cash welfare) and SNAP are nation wide federal programs so in most cases, as long as the recipient is a US citizen, they don’t need to establish state residency.

          The one that attracts vagrants is general assistance, cash welfare for single adults (and State funded)

  • Politicians main goal is to cater to their special interest groups and campaign contributors. Priority? Homelessness is not a priority because it is not in their front yard. The rest of us must avoid areas of parks and beaches that have been claimed by the homeless. A politician’s best strategy is to prolong doing anything till their term is up or taking action only during election days. Talk, talk, talk, what a job.

  • I would rather see government use our tax money put poor people into homes and build public bathrooms than wasting tax dollars and police time endlessly rousting people for having no place to stay – or having to go pee when there are no public bathrooms. We are making the public health problem worse by our current “sweep and dump” approach.

    • TheFarm – there are places for homeless to stay. Shelters have several hundred spaces available but the homeless “don’t like” the rules at shelters. Nothing is stopping you from having them stay at your house – do that.

    • New info – a SA editorial today says “nearly 600 shelter beds remain empty on any given night across the state”. If homeless people don’t go to the shelters, don’t give them anything.

  • The homeless don’t want affordable housing. If that were really true, then HI should buy thousands of dirt cheap livable houses in Detroit that sell for around $500 dollars on Ebay and everywhere else and deport the homeless to Detroit with a clear and free property deed in their hand.

  • Please STOP giving any money to help these homeless. A homeless man said he came from Europe and loves Hawaii because Hawaii gives him all he needs to live on and is going to tell his friends in Europe to come here. Our generosity is going to create a ghetto out of Hawaii and we will all suffer the consequences.

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