Legislature eyes lottery as the fix for Hawaii's homeless crisis

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The annual lottery debate is happening again at the state Legislature.

But there's a twist this year: Lawmakers are proposing a three-year pilot program that calls for proceeds to go toward Hawaii's homeless crisis.

The lottery is legal in 44 states, and state Rep. John Mizuno believes it's time to try it in Hawaii. He says multi-state games, like Powerball and Mega Millions, could be the ticket to solving homelessness.

"If we could collect $50, $60, $70 million and focus that on homeless services, that would be great for our entire state," Mizuno said.

But critics say legal gambling in any form will only make Hawaii's social problems worse.

"If we want to create social ills and homelessness, this is probably a good bill," said state Rep. Gene Ward, a Republican.

Mizuno, the chairman of the Human Services Committee, says those fears are unfounded. Revenues from the lottery, in accordance with the terms of the pilot program, would go towards mental health and drug treatment programs, as well as areas coined as "ohana zones."

"It could be portable units. We've got a number of things we can do. It's kind of like emergency shelters," he said. "An area where they can transition into an affordable rental unit and get them focused on jobs."

Ward doubts, though, that's where the money would end up.

"Almost every state that has done anything for gambling to dedicate it to, for example, education — they've either not appropriated it and put it in the general fund or they appropriate it for that specific issue but then they cut the normal funding," said Ward.

Several people Hawaii News Now stopped on the street said they'd support a lottery program, though many believe the money should be divvied to support a number of state issues.

"Maybe it could go towards schooling systems. That's a very large public need that benefits everybody," said resident Logan Phipps.

Added resident Abby Wilmington, "I think distributing the money throughout education and the homeless population and conservation efforts in Hawaii would be good."

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