Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell touted his “compassionate disruption” and Housing First strategies for tackling chronic homelessness while major opponents Charles Djou and Peter Carlisle declared them failures during a forum sponsored by Hawaii News Now and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Tuesday night.
Compassionate disruption has involved trying to locate housing for the chronically homeless while at the same time enforcing laws that forbid storing property and sitting or lying on sidewalks.
In addition, with Housing First, Caldwell said, “you house someone first with their addictions, with their mental illness, and you help them get better, and we’re doing that in the City and County of Honolulu.” He said that last year a contract with the Institute for Human Services helped house 175 individuals, while an upcoming contract with U.S. Vets will house between 175 and 200 more.
But both Djou, a former City Council member and U.S. representative, and Carlisle, a former mayor and city prosecutor, said the problem still is getting worse.
“What we’re doing right now isn’t working as homelessness keeps on going up every single year,” Djou said. To hail a 1 percent increase in homelessness as a success story is akin to having a mechanic telling a car owner the vehicle is still broken and it’s 1 percent worse, he said. “Would you still hire that mechanic again? We’ve got to do better.”
Carlisle said he would prefer a “personalized intervention and consequences” approach. “You take a look at every one of these people: ‘Why is this person chronically homeless?’” Based on that assessment, “you triage that person,” Carlisle said. “The consequences could be a change in medication, it could be getting a person out of a particular area.”
Djou said he agreed with Carlisle on dealing with the chronically homeless. “What we need to be doing is confronting them and getting counseling for them,” he said, adding that he would enlist the help of private nonprofits in that effort. Regarding those who simply choose homelessness as a lifestyle, “for those I do think we need to enforce the law.”
To address the housing crunch, Djou reiterated his call to build taller residential buildings in urban Honolulu in order to preserve more pristine areas. “We of course don’t want to turn Honolulu into the skyline of Chicago or Manhattan here, but can we go a little bit higher? The answer is yes, absolutely,” he said, saying that the largest local skyscraper, the First Hawaiian Bank Tower, is between 450 and 500 feet. (It is actually 429 feet.)
Carlisle and Caldwell agreed affordable housing could only be improved by building more units in the urban core.
Carlisle said he would continue to reduce other city operations in order to fund infrastructure necessary for housing.
Caldwell said his administration has been all about infrastructure, from improving sewer capacity to improving parks “so that we can live in a more dense, urban core. I want to make the city more city so that we can keep the country country.”
During an “Insights on PBS Hawaii” forum Monday night, Djou and Carlisle ganged up on Caldwell, accusing him of engineering the resignation of longtime Ethics Commission Executive Director Chuck Totto.
Djou said the commission “has been completely railroaded” and that Totto, shortly after Caldwell took office, “started asking the wrong questions” by delving into a luau sponsored by the mayor’s supporters. “I didn’t always agree with (Totto),” he said, recalling his time on the City Council. “But I thought he was a good, hardworking, dedicated public servant.”
Djou said he would work to have Totto reinstated.
Carlisle, who has been Totto’s attorney during his clashes with members of the seven-member commission, said that “absolutely and unequivocally, there has been a complete evisceration of ethics in the City and County of Honolulu. It’s been booted out the door.”
Caldwell’s three commission appointees, all retired judges, have been doing his bidding, Carlisle suggested.
Caldwell denied flatly that he provided an agenda for his commission appointees, and noted that “a majority of the members were appointed by Peter.” Decisions that have been made about the commission’s leadership and staffing are being made jointly by Carlisle and Caldwell appointees, the incumbent said. “To somehow imply that (the commission members) are being told what to do is an insult, an insult to them.”