Republican gubernatorial candidate Duke Aiona Monday called for the establishment of a homeless court as a way to help address Hawaii's homeless problem, a proposal that was criticized by Gov. Neil Abercrombie's homelessness coordinator.
"In the end, the homeless court will provide the homeless on the streets with a gateway to services and an opportunity to a new beginning," Aiona said at a news conference near homeless camps in Kakaako Monday morning.
Aiona, a former administrative judge in charge of drug court in Hawaii, said the homeless courts would be patterned after that effort and homeless courts in Arizona, California and Texas.
He said homeless courts would allow homeless people charged with public intoxication or sleeping in closed parks to seek treatment and services instead of paying fines or going to jail.
"It will give the homeless who have been arrested and/or have outstanding charges to petition the court to enter into the program with the objective of getting off the streets permanently," Aiona said.
Colin Kippen, the governor's homelessness coordinator, said a homeless court would be putting resources in the wrong place.
"My approach is to instead figure out how to take people immediately off the streets into permanent housing and provide them with the services they need. I can house a person for about 11- or 12-hundred dollars a month," Kippen said.
Kippen said mentally ill homeless suffered with $25 million of cuts to social services for the mentally ill under then-Lieutenant Governor Aiona and former Governor Linda Lingle.
"The services that were cut impacted our ability to get them the help that they need. And without help, they end up on the streets," Kippen said.
Entire mental health programs were discontinued in 2008 to 2010, during Lingle's final years in office, according to Janice Okubo, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health.
For example, an Assertive Community Treatment program was abolished and case management was reduced because there were limits placed on the amount of service people could receive because of the Lingle-era cuts, Okubo said.
Crisis stabilization management and crisis mobile outreach programs were reduced and layoffs, furloughs and hiring freezes cut the number of staff working at community mental health centers, Okubo said.
"As we rebuild the system under the Abercrombie administration," Okubo said, "we have targeted increased crisis services, a restoration of case management units and restoring and expanding our qualifying diagnoses."
Aiona's response: "It's not about the cuts in programs. Let's not think about the cuts in programs, because we know we have that right now. Right now, what it is is getting these people in these programs."
Connie Mitchell, who heads the Institute for Human Services, the state's largest homeless shelter, said non-profit and government programs for the homeless would need more money if a "homeless court" is going to send more people to them from the streets.
"In order to do more, we're going to need more resources," Mitchell said. "The problem would be there are not the services that are matched to that right now. Those need to be developed."
Aiona did not have a cost estimate for the homeless court program, but said the legislature could appropriate money for it.
A similar effort to create veteran's court failed to win money at the legislature this year. Lawmakers said the judiciary could assign a judge and staff to the effort out of existing money.
Aiona said the program could start by assigning one judge part time to handle homeless cases. But he also wants judges to hold court at parks and sidewalks in trailers, which would cost money for facilities, gas and staff.