Honolulu Mayor wants significant increase in programs for homeless

Honolulu Mayor wants significant increase in programs for homeless

WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - No one can deny that Honolulu has a homeless problem.  The bathrooms along Kalakaua Avenue, the beaches of the Waianae Coast, the grassy lawns of Kaka'ako are all filled with homeless camps.

In his State of the City address, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell says the homeless issue generates more complaints than any other.

"I'm getting more and more letters from our visitors," says Caldwell, "That means someone who visited here, got upset, went home, and instead of unpacking, doing their laundry, and getting back to work, took time to find out who the mayor was, what his address was, and to write him a letter.  And that's deeply troubling."

The Mayor says he wants to increase funding for programs that address the homeless population, in particular, a new program called Housing First.   The budget for the inaugural year was just one million dollars, Caldwell wants to increase it to almost 19 million next year.

"Housing First is about getting the homeless into housing immediately without requiring that they be clean and sober.  These are the requirements many homeless people are simply unable to meet," says Caldwell.

Rick Egged of the Waikiki Improvement Association says beefing up Housing First could have an immediate impact on the tourism industry,  "In Waikiki, we have a high proportion -- like 80% -- are people with drug abuse or alcohol abuse issues or mental health issues and they're the hardest to find housing for because they don't want to obey rules."

"We're optimistic, very optimistic," says Kelly Joseph of Wakiki Health.  She says the program has been successful in other cities because it targets the homeless who are often the most difficult to get off the streets.

"This is taking (that) individual and providing housing and then providing support services," says Joseph.

Visitors like Shirley Wallace from Canada says something needs to be done, "We've come for the last eight or ten years and this is the worst year yet," she says.  "It's not a deterrent for us because we love Hawaii but it is a sad to see."

The Mayor's budget would still have to be approved but outreach workers say they're glad he is recognizing the potential of Housing First.

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