Lawmaker: Homelessness should be considered a health condition - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Lawmaker: Homelessness should be considered a health condition

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

Could classifying homelessness as a health condition be key to solving the problem?  State Sen. Josh Green thinks so.

It's a new approach to solving the state's homeless crisis, and it would allow the state to use more federal Medicaid dollars to treat mental illness and drug addiction among the homeless.

The strategy is motivated by the "No Room in Paradise" documentary, which was sponsored by Hawaii News Now.  

According to outreach workers, the majority of people living on the street's in the islands suffer from some type of mental illness. Green, who is also an emergency room doctor, sees the issue first-hand.

"I see the same patients over and over again," he said. "Every time they come to the hospital the bills are thousands and thousands of dollars. And they don't get better. They have the same problems when they come out," said Green, chairman of the state Senate Human Services Committee.

Green believes it would cost the state an extra $200 million a year to restore the state's mental health and drug treatment facilities.

Hawaii's behavioral health safety net shouldered deep cuts during the recession, and Green said re-allocating some of the state's $2 billion Medicaid budget could help better fund those programs.

"If we spent some of this which is private insurance money on this as a health problem then we won't have to rely on major increases on the state budget," Green said.

Trisha Kajimura, executive director of Mental Health America of Hawaii, said better funding is part of the solution.

"We need more doctors and more staff in general, especially psychiatrists and people who are able to prescribe medications for mental illness," she said.

Kajimura added that if the money isn't spent now, the problem could persist for decades. She added that people can't heal without a roof over their head.

"In terms of affordable rental housing, if we don't build more stock and make that available to people who are almost homeless, at risk for homelessness or homeless, we're not going to get anywhere," she said.

Anthony Aalto, the filmmaker behind "No Room in Paradise," has been asked to testify at the housing and homeless task force this week. The documentary will also be screened at the state Capitol building.

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