"Return to Home" program has supporters, doubters

"Return to Home" program has supporters, doubters
Published: Jul. 23, 2013 at 11:21 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 23, 2013 at 11:34 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - "This is not a silver bullet, this does not solve everything" Representative John Mizuno is quick to point out the limitations of the "Return to Home" program, and he's one of its staunchest supporters.

Mizuno helped get the program passed as part of Senate Bill 515.

"It's fractional, it's not for 5,000 homeless people. It's going to be a handful of homeless people that we send home, again--home to their support unit" added Mizuno.

The program, which is set to launch this fiscal year, is a three-year pilot program in which $100,000 is appropriated each year to send homeless people in Hawaii back to their families on the mainland.

Representative Rida Cabanilla was also instrumental in getting it passed.  She points to a dual purpose in the program: social empathy, combined with fiscal conservatism.

"Every homeless person, whether they're in a shelter or un-housed, they get something like over 700 dollars from the state per month" said Cabanilla.

By sending select homeless to the mainland, those costs could conceivably be averted.

"My initial impression of it, is it's a good thing".  Those words are from Kanui Bell, who is the Director for Clinical Training and Program Development at the Institute for Human Services.  IHS is Hawaii's largest emergency shelter.  It is not currently affiliated with the program.  While Bell supports the idea, he does see some issues down the road.

"There's a lot of communities across the country, and so that's a lot of logistics that we need to handle for where folks are coming from for when they return".

In addition to logistics, there is the after-care component for the homeless once they get off the plane at the other end of the ride.

"It's something that this process is going to have to look at supplemental processes that are going to happen where the folks are returning to" said Bell.

The Department of Human Services, which will work on implementing the program, has voiced its concerns, telling Hawaii News Now in a statement:

"We remain concerned this program is an invitation to purchase a one-way ticket to Hawaii with a guaranteed return flight home."

Mizuno said safeguards will be implemented to prevent such abuse.  He also estimated that when the program launches in three to four months, it will hopefully be able to send as many as 100 people back to the mainland each year.

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