Compassion needed in homeless solution

They say Hawaii is a pretty good place to be homeless. Sunshine, warm weather and plenty of soup kitchens make it pleasant most of the time. Nothing like, say, Idaho or Montana, where it’s pretty much freezing once winter weather sets in. The homeless have it good here, many say, that’s why there’s an estimated 7,000 of them.

But it’s getting tougher.

On Oahu, cities are taking a stand so life for the homeless isn’t so comfortable. No more sitting or sleeping on sidewalks. In Kakaako, the city’s Department of Facility Maintenance removed tents, chairs, clothing and anything else left out by the homeless on Thursday. Sadly, some of these shacks were home to some students in schools, who before returned to little, and now returned to nothing.

It’s a tough spot. Tourism is critical to Hawaii’s economy. This state depends on folks flying here and spending money. But little makes a tourist more uncomfortable than a homeless person resting on the sidewalk. That doesn’t really put someone in a spending mood. It’s not quite what they want to see when they fly across the ocean to enjoy our beaches, restaurants and shops. The tourism industry, critical to this state’s economy, is seeking firm solutions. Yet, Hawaii doesn’t want to come across as insensitive to the needs of its homeless. We know that on every island, there are men and women, families with children, who don’t have a home to sleep in at night. They’re in tents and cars. They don’t have enough food to eat during the day. The shoes on their feet are their only pair.

According to Hope Services in Hawaii:

w 12,000-15,000 people in the state are homeless at some point of the year.

w 11 percent of those living without housing are children.

w 32 percent of the homeless are of Native Hawaiian ethnicity.

w 22 percent of Hawaii’s homeless have some form of employment.

w 14 percent of those homeless are veterans.

Homelessness is an area where the state needs to be firm, but act with care and compassion.

The Hawaii’s Institute for Human Services’ $1.3 million campaign to clear the homeless out of Waikiki is a step in the right direction. Most of the money will be used for outreach services to connect the homeless with shelter, employment and medical services. IHS hopes to move 140 people into shelters or housing. That all sounds good. Another part of the plan is a bit more questionable.

It calls for flying more homeless, about 100, back to the Mainland. Before just shipping them off and surprising relatives back home, there will be a screening process to be sure they won’t be homeless when they get off the plane at their destination. The thought process is, many came here with high hopes, ended up broke and on the streets, without a way to get back home. This program will give them that chance and it could succeed with proper guidelines and restrictions. Once word gets out of such a concept, there will be those who try to take advantage of it for a free trip.

While some will argue the homeless likely brought their situation on themselves due to drugs or drinking or sheer laziness, there are many hard-working people out there struggling to survive, the victims of the high costs of living in this beautiful state. There are people trying to dig themselves out of debt and get back on their feet. There are those who, despite having a job, can’t afford a roof over their heads at night. It’s for those people Hawaii should do its best to provide temporary housing. It’s for those people the state should seek to create affordable housing.

A strong economy, creating jobs, and affordable housing are key in any efforts to end the homeless problem here, not putting them on planes or setting up camps on islands that are out of sight of tourists.

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