With an impassioned call for help, the director of the Children's Discovery Center in Kakaako sent an email last month to every state Senator, the Governor and other government officials. She provided video evidence of two men defecating and urinating outside the Center, and described the terrible state of affairs that regularly occurs around the Children's Center.
The homeless population has grown to more than 300 in Kakaako Makai. Contiguous tents line both sides of several streets. There are no sidewalks and passing cars must carefully negotiate these corridors where children play. One sign proclaims, "This is our home. Leave us alone!"
Representative Tom Brower was beat up at this location about a week after the email. More recently, the police released statistics on the increasing incidents of crime in the area. While most of the homeless want no problems with the law, some characters are bringing trouble for all. This situation is bad and getting worse. Of course, the homeless crisis is state-wide and there are several thousand homeless individuals.
As the new Vice-Chair of the Senate Human Services Committee, I called Senator Susie Chun-Oakland, the Committee Chair and well regarded leader in these matters. I thought that if we know these people are living in these circumstances and we are not going to provide an alternative or force them to leave, then we have accepted responsibility for the situation. If this many people are going to remain indefinitely, then we must provide a minimum level of sanitation until a decision is made to do something else.
What resulted was a meeting of government leaders, service providers and community advocates on Tuesday, July 28, 2015. This leadership team offered 10 recommendations to Governor Ige, who held a press conference the day before to announce that he would be working with Mayor Caldwell and the Legislative financial committee chairs to address the homeless crisis.
Some of the recommendations were to increase capacity of the Next Step Shelter that is already operating in Kakaako; consider purchasing the Hilo Hattie building in Iwilei, which is in bankruptcy, for a comprehensive resource and training, and transitional living facility; support funding for a youth facility and family housing project that is planned in Honolulu; increase funding for rental assistance; provide adequate maintenance funding to reduce public housing vacancies; and consider an emergency declaration to expedite actions to address this crisis.
There are many reasons why the homeless population is increasing and ignoring the problem will not make it go away. We have to provide compassionate support for those that need assistance and we have to be firm with those who would take advantage of this compassion. There is clearly no easy, permanent solution, yet I wonder if we, as a society, are ready and willing to do whatever it takes to address this situation? Half measures are not working.