Kakaako Homelessness is Complicated. But is This The Best We Can Do?

Aww man, no! This is the breaking news from your press conference today?


Governor Ige and Mayor Caldwell, I've been hanging such hope on this new homelessness initiative you've started. It had such promise - bridging between state and local leaders and housing advocates, looking to the mainland for solutions that work, actually starting to talk about 'housing first.'

We all know Kakaako is in crisis. We didn't need last Thursday's Star Advertiser to remind us, although a good reminder it was. We also don't need any more stop-gaps or sit-lie bans. We can't keep moving these people around like the crazy uncle nobody in the family wants to claim.

What does that mean exactly, "sweeping the first 20 to 25 people?" Do you round them up and take them to shelters, or do you just move them along, send them to some other neighborhood?

I live in Kakaako, and I've watched that encampment grow and grow. I know it's dire and I know it's frightening.

It's economically frightening. How do we keep businesses thriving in this new urban core? How do we keep tourist dollars flowing? How do we keep building and selling condos in the new high rises coming to the 'hood?

It's personally frightening. Nobody wants to take their kids to the museum that's on the other side of the homeless encampment. No one's likely to head out there for an evening stroll along the water. Tempers flare. Desperation sets in and bad things happen.

But it also has to be really frightening to be a three-year-old little girl living in a tent and not knowing where the next meal will come from. It's got to be frightening to be her mom and not know if you'll be able to support her, or to wonder whether she'd be better off in the foster care system.

I'm a single mom. I work hard to make ends meet to support myself and my two teenagers. It's hard sometimes. Sometimes I panic, wondering if I can handle it all. Sometimes I have a few glasses of wine to get through the evening. Sometimes I make rash decisions, snap at my kids when I shouldn't, forget to pay a bill or follow up on a doctor appointment. I do all those things and I have a roof over my head. I have work. I have kids in school and they have the prospect of a future. Life's hard sometimes, even for those who've got the basics covered. Imagine how hard it is when even those basics seem unattainable.

We are smart people. We believe in doing what's right. We introduced the world to aloha - not just the word but what it means, how to live it. Now it's our job - our kuleana - to combine our smarts with our aloha and find meaningful answers. We owe it to the community, and we owe it to those people, those children, who don't have anywhere else to turn.

We don't know all the answers but we know some of them. We know shelters alone are the homelessness equivalent of sweeping the issue under the rug. If we don't see them when we drive down Ala Moana to Starbucks for the morning coffee, then it's easier to believe they're gone, not there. But that little girl's still hungry, and that mother, still worried.

We know they need housing first. We know we can't expect people to get clean and sober when they live in a tent on the sidewalk. Ask anyone who's overcome substance abuse how hard it was, then remember they had a roof over their head. Take a quick survey in Hollywood of the number of repeat offenders in ritzy rehab centers, and remember they have really nice roofs, and really swank treatment centers. And yet getting clean and sober is just beyond the grasp.

We know they need basic health care and medical attention.

We know they need housing vouchers and landlords who will accept them.

We know they need social services, child welfare assistance, collaboration with the schools and volunteer services.

We also know that the long-term economic gain comes when we solve this problem, mainstream these people, get them on their feet.

We know there's a measure of accountability, responsibility, and basic human good.

We don't yet have all the answers. That's what your new task force is all about, finding solutions that work. It's not easy, and I commend you for tackling it head on.

But don't get our hopes up then call a press conference to tell us you're doing the same old stuff. Even in a new dress, we know recycled and ineffective strategies when we see 'em.

Let's fix this problem. Let's help that three-year-old little girl. For reals this time.