Homelessness a key issue in Waikiki's state House race - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Homelessness a key issue in Waikiki's state House race

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(Image: Hawaii News Now) (Image: Hawaii News Now)
WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) -

How to tackle homelessness is a key issue in the state House race for the district that includes Waikiki, Ala Moana and Kakaako.

State Rep. Tom Brower, a Democrate who's made headlines for his handling of homelessness in the past, is facing off against Republican Kathryn Henski.

Henski, a political unknown, owned and operated a homeless shelter in Alaska in the 1980s and says she has experience dealing with a wide range of homeless issues. "(I) helped them get back into society and give them a sense of pride and dignity," she said.

Henski says Oahu needs more shelters, including more unconventional ones. And, she argues, homeless sweeps don't help.

"It accomplishes nothing," she said. "It does nothing but remove them from the streets for a small period of time and they return."

She's also critical of Brower's approach to dealing with the homeless. Brower raised eyebrows -- and made national headlines -- in 2013, after he started using a sledgehammer to destroy abandoned shopping carts. Then, in 2015, he was roughed up by homeless teens in Kakaako while taking pictures of a growing encampment.

"Sometimes legislators have to make strong statements and if it hurts their image, then so be it," he said. 

Brower says the state should be doing more to address homelessness, and suggested designating certain areas where the homeless could safely pitch tents.

He says those who don't comply need to face penalties.

"Government, sadly, may have to use the threat of arrest if people do not follow the rules and they do not abide by those rules of park closures and clear sidewalks," Brower said.

Henski says she's suggesting a dramatically different approach, and argues patience and empathy are what's need in Hawaii's homeless crisis.

"If you keep working persistently with these people and find out what issue is it really that they don't want to give up, you'll move more people," she said.

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