Star Advertiser: Editorial: City must act on homeless plans

(Source: Star Advertiser)

October 24, 2018

Guided by an action plan for tackling homelessness, drafted in 2013, the city has launched several initiatives aimed at increasing the inventory of affordable housing and — for the past three years — established Housing First programs, which don’t require hard-core homeless individuals to demonstrate they’re “house ready” before placement.

The ongoing push to quickly place individuals and families in permanent housing while addressing stubborn public health and safety concerns — often tied to the chronically homeless contingent — is a painfully slow-paced march.

As the effort continues, with hefty funding and city resources allocated, progress hinges on Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration working effectively in tandem with the City Council. It’s worrisome, then, that the recent handling of two bills that make it illegal to obstruct city sidewalks and to “lodge” on public property serve as an example of working at unintended cross-purposes, at best, or showboat politicking, at worst.

Earlier this month, before passing Bills 51 and 52 on Oct. 3, the Council’s Public Works Committee Chairwoman Carol Fuku­naga inserted language that states the city cannot begin enforcement of the new laws until the Council first approves, via resolution, an updated homeless action plan.

Pointing to park sweeps in recent years that often appear to result in encampments simply moving to another park, some Council members have argued that not enough is being done to combat homelessness. Such frustration is understandable, but the move to delay enforcement of the new laws is misguided.

Some Council members apparently first want the Caldwell administration to provide a comprehensive long-term vision for each district. What’s readily available is an evolving vision that started taking shape last five years ago, when the city targeted drastically reducing homelessness as a top priority. The action plan is serviceable, not perfect.

While contending with the thorny issue of homelessness, city leaders cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. It’s also worth noting that with regards to short-term vision, Council members, too, could provide better clarity.

In 2016 the Council approved a capital improvements budget through which $2 million apiece was tagged for the nine Council districts under the heading “community revitalization initiative.” The funds were to be used for community- and homeless-focused projects ranging from land acquisition to renovation of facilities for urban rest stops. How was that money spent? There has yet to be a comprehensive update.

In this year’s “Point in Time” count — a one-day census of the homeless population — Oahu’s tally (nearly 4,500 people) decreased for the first time in nine years. Statewide, the count dipped for a second year, after the numbers had climbed for seven consecutive years, at one point ranking Hawaii as having the highest per capita rate of homelessness in the country. Though not speedy, progress seems in the works.

Last week, when Caldwell unveiled the required action plan update, he also introduced nine resolutions — one for each Council district. This move could speed progress if a sign-off from each Council member serves as a go-ahead for enforcement of the new laws in their districts — rather than waiting for a full-panel vote.

The updated plan points to cooperation between Caldwell and the Council as key as the city seeks to more closely partner with law enforcement and health care officials to address struggles such as illegal activity on the streets, disregard for public property, and aggressive behavior among individuals with mental illness and substance abuse problems.

Clearly, the city must forge collaborations that provide stepped-up help for this “service resistant” group, estimated at 1,700 individuals. If bickering continues to needlessly impede progress, however, the plan’s call for wider community engagement could fall flat.

Via: Star Advertiser

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