Homelessness, mental health top priorities for 2016 legislative - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Homelessness, mental health top priorities for 2016 legislative session

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Lawmakers kicked off the 2016 legislative Wednesday morning, with both parties in the state House and Senate pledging to focus their efforts on tackling the state's homelessness crisis.

The session started on a somber tone, with legislators holding a moment of silence for the 12 Marines presumed dead after two helicopters collided off Oahu's North Shore on Thursday.

About 10:55 a.m., after about a half hour of formalities and introductions, House Speaker Joe Souki delivered his opening day remarks, during which he called on his colleagues to support city and state agencies in finding solutions to homelessness.

"Homelessness seems as entrenched as any issue we've faced in recent times," Souki said, according to his prepared speech. "We should refocus all of the state agencies who have a hand in developing affordable housing to leverage what is currently being done. We should start looking at how we can build affordable housing on state-owned parcels along Oahu's rail system."

Lawmakers have said they want to tackle the state's homeless crisis in earnest this session.

"We have to take it in totality and look at the whole and that's what we're going to attempt to do," said Senate Majority Leader Kalani English (D - Hana, East and Upcountry Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe).

Lawmakers say they understand there's no silver bullet to solving Hawaii's growing homeless problem, but also say they're looking for big ideas that will make a big impact. "We're open to all ideas, but the one specific thing, we don't have it yet. That's what we're hunting for," said English.

Among the ideas being floated is approval for non-traditional living, like micro-homes.

Lawmakers say they also want to see state agencies like the Department of Hawaiian Homelands and the Public Housing Authority do more to create available housing by cutting down on their long wait lists. 

Improving mental health care has also been flagged as critical step toward addressing Hawaii's growing homeless population.

"One area that we'll be looking at is to see if we can improve the system at the State Hospital because of the lack of capacity there," said House Majority Leader Scott Saiki (D - McCully, Kaheka, Kakaako, Downtown). "Right now, the State Hospital is unable to accept new patients so we're going to take a look at that situation, which may also include expanding the State Hospital."

House Minority Leader Beth Fukumoto Chang (R - Mililani Mauka, Mililani) said she'll be looking to get a forensic care designation for the hospital, "so that when we put people there we're making sure they're getting treatments so they can recover. Instead of just moving them out and having to move them back in again,"

Lawmakers say this session is less about new initiatives or mandates and more about fixing existing challenges -- specifically when it comes to accountability.

"We see millions of dollars wasted. We see money that we can't account for. We see people that have bad performance and there's no accountability
for them. We've got to do a better job of husbanding the resources of the taxpayers that we represent," said House Minority Leader Sam Slom (R -
Hawai'i Kai, Kuli'ou'ou, Niu, 'Aina Haina, Wai'alae-Kahala, Diamond Head).

Legislators say they're hopeful distractions, like bills to legalize gambling or marijuana, won't derail their focus from the top concerns they hope
to address over the next five months.

Copyright 2016 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

Powered by Frankly