End to homelessness starts with us

Someone said this country used to wage war on homelessness. Now, it wages war on the homeless.

There are different views on what to do with — or for — Hawaii’s homeless population.

w Help them too much and you make it too easy for them to remain homeless and they lose their motivation to improve their situation. If you provide meals and clothes and a place to clean up, they will just stick around and take what they can.

w Do too little to help them get back on their own and the homeless will continue down the path that got them to this point in the first place. They won’t get that opportunity to start over. They can’t turn life around on their own.

w Find that middle ground that provides enough for the homeless to not just get by, but to gradually find their way back to a life of independence that includes employment, housing and perhaps even an automobile.

Hawaii’s legislators have settled, as they should, on that hard-to-find middle ground. Solving this country’s homeless problem can’t begin when people are out on the streets. It has to start well before that by providing affordable housing, keeping kids in school, creating jobs that provide a livable wage and taking care of our kupuna.

The Legislature took steps in that direction this session when it passed a total of 233 bills, including measures to support affordable housing and homelessness, reduce taxes on low-income families, provide college tuition for qualifying students, support kupuna care and fund new schools.

For homeless people the House funded outreach and health care services and earmarked $3 million for the Housing First program. Housing First is an approach to homelessness that provides rapid housing placement followed by support services, and has proven successful in helping people to improve their lives.

We could argue that, based on the most recent Point in Time count results, efforts to reduce homelessness are working. Kauai saw a 7 percent decline in its homeless population compared to the same period last year. The Garden Isle count reported 412 homeless persons in 2017 compared to 442 last year. The 2017 figure accounts for 297 unsheltered homeless persons and 115 sheltered.

The state saw a 9 percent decrease in homeless individuals from 7,921 persons in 2016 to 7,220 persons in 2017. This was the first state decline in eight years.

Other islands — but not Oahu, which saw a slight rise — saw a decline in homeless, the count found. On the Big Island, homelessness fell 32 percent. On Maui, it fell 22 percent.

The report found a 19 percent decrease in homeless families, an 8 percent decrease in chronic homeless individuals and families and an 8 percent decrease in homeless veterans statewide.

Back to the question of what to do about the homeless.

It’s a nationwide problem. More than a half a million people in the U.S. are homeless. They are living on the streets, in cars, in shelters, or in subsidized transitional housing. These people are moms and dads, aunts and uncles, sons and daughters. Children, too.

It’s not an easy solution. Never has been, never will be, though we wish it were. According to the Salvation Army, some of the main causes of homelessness are lack of affordable housing, poor physical or mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, gambling, family and relationship breakdown, domestic violence and physical and/or sexual abuse.

Not only do these things lead to homelessness, they are the same reasons that people stay there.

The homeless make many of us uncomfortable. Not because we fear they’ll do us harm or take something from us, but because many of us are not far from being in that same situation. Most people live paycheck to paycheck. An illness, an accident, car troubles, can result in the loss of money needed to make that rent or housing payment. The homeless can be those who caught a bad break. It’s not always due to substance abuse or violence.

The Legislature in on the right track on dealing with homelessness. We like the steps they took and believe it’s the right approach. But it can’t be all on our leaders in government. We play a role, too. We’re not going to call on everyone to donate to The Salvation Army or Kauai Economy Opportunity or the food bank or to spend a night pretending to be homeless. We are going to offer one bit of advice on how we can each help the homeless, and it won’t cost any money — which is good since most of us cling tightly to our money.

So, what are these great words of wisdom? Just this: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

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