Our Opinion for Sunday — April 25, 2004

• Housing for the needy

Housing for the needy

In the shadow of Kaua‘i’s booming real estate market is the need for housing for the homeless, for many prisoners exiting Kaua‘i Community Correctional Center, for low-income renters.

Some progress has been made on emergency housing for the homeless, with Mayor Baptiste, KEO and other non-profits working together to use surplus county frame buildings for this purpose.

While this plan will ease the homeless housing situation, the roots of the problem needs to be attacked as well. And this problem appears to again be a reflection of our through the roof real estate prices.

This problem might have unforeseen effects, for in the long-term, housing for homeless families and individuals could go two different ways.

There may in the near future be a huge need for homeless housing as more and more local families who rent lose their rentals through sales of the property or conversion of the unit into a vacation rental. If the real estate market continues on its current trend this effect should multiply over this year and the next. We are already hearing anecdotal evidence that this trend is beginning, with stories of families facing almost hopeless renting situations, especially if they have no parents or other family members to move in with.

Another direction might be the relocation to renters to the Mainland and Honolulu through raw economic forces because they can’t afford housing here on the wages earned in the service industries that are becoming a major piece of our job pie. In addition, with tighter controls on our beach parks, more coastal development of upper end homes and tighter vagrancy laws, Kaua‘i’s homeless problem might be more contained and thus less of a problem.

Another group at risk in our housing dilemma is the prisoners who exit jail after serving their time. Discussion community-wide is growing on the need for housing, as well as training, for deserving prisoners who once they complete their sentences wish to give it another try at succeeding in the outside world. Homes where training, counseling and a positive community exist are needed for the prisoners to make the difficult transition to life outside the prison walls. Prisoners can find themselves in a revolving door life that comes and goes from prison because of being unable to survive this often traumatic transition period. Our return rates to prison are high, and create a heavy burden on our state tax dollar. How better it would be if the majority of these released prisoners became contributors to our society rather than burdens on it.

An action plan that goes beyond current efforts is needed. Hopefully housing will become the major issue for candidates running in the upcoming elections.


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