Mayor declares war on homelessness

Mayor declares war on homelessness

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Oahu's homeless problem is a tricky subject. People don't want to criminalize the poor but they also don't want vagrants taking over public spaces.

In an editorial in yesterday's Star-Advertiser, Caldwell declared war on homelessness which he said is evolving into a crisis.

Today at Pawaa In Ha Park there were kids playing and retirees relaxing. It's a stark difference from before when people described the homeless as scary.

"I got the creeps walking through it. Now it feels better because there are no homeless people," said Marcy, who says she isn't against homeless people, but they can be creepy.

The homeless issue has become a public health issue in certain parts of the city with people using the streets as their own bedroom and bathroom. The Mayor wants more laws. One would make it illegal to urinate or defecate in public areas. Another is the sit/lie law which would prevent people from sitting or lying on sidewalks.

"The sidewalk is not meant to lie on and this new ordinance we're seeking to pass says you cannot lie on a sidewalk. You cannot sit on a sidewalk and when you think about it its common sense," said Kirk Caldwell, Honolulu Mayor.

It's not just about cleaning up the sidewalks. The other plan is Housing First to find apartments for homeless. The city would pay their rent and get them services.

"Some people say this is not fair, why should we pay for people to be in an apartment, they should be working. But it costs more to move them from sidewalk to sidewalk and a lot of times they end up in emergency rooms where we're paying thousands and thousands of dollars. It is less expensive to put them in housing and you change behavior that way," said Mayor Caldwell.

Homeless advocates don't necessarily like creating more laws against the poor, but they do support proposals to get chronic homeless into a home.

"The war, fining people, putting them in jail that's not the answer. What we need is housing, affordable low income housing," said Joy Rucker, Waikiki Health Director of Community Services.

"I think it can work. I'm not going to claim I can solve and eliminate homelessness. That's a bigger issue but as mayor I'm committed to change the appearance of our city to make it better," said Mayor Caldwell. "It's the two parts, its compassionate disruption on one hand, the enforcement compassionate disruption and the other one is permanent supportive housing or more commonly known as Housing First. They go together and if you just have one all you're doing is moving people around. If you have two you are moving them into some form of housing."

Funding is a big issue. The mayor wants $19 million for the Housing First plans, but that may not happen. The Honolulu City Council will vote on the budget this Wednesday.