Program to offer Waikiki homeless one-way tickets back to mainland

Published: Nov. 7, 2014 at 9:40 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 8, 2014 at 8:00 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Institute for Human Services has partnered with Hawai'i Lodging and Tourism Association and Waikiki Improvement Association to address a growing homeless problem in the state's tourism mecca. One of its many initiatives includes a $33,000 plan to provide individuals with one-way-tickets back to wherever they came from -- or wherever they have a support system in place to assist them.

Officials say there aren't too many qualifications for the program, but one requirement is that individuals pay for half the ticket themselves and they can only get help with a flight home once.

IHS officials say the Waikiki Relocation Assistance Program is not a hand-out but designed to identify homeless who are stranded here and struggling to leave.

"I think that people have maybe misconstrued it as a way to just sweep people back to the mainland and it really isn't that we've always tried to help people reconnect with their families and getting back to a place where they have more support and that's definitely what the intent is," said Connie Mitchell, Executive Director at IHS.

It's not a new concept for IHS. Earlier this year, they helped Alyssa, a single mother of two, return to New York after she wound up homeless in Hawai'i. At the time, they didn't have a program to cover the cost of her ticket but they did assist her with parenting and budget training that allowed her to reach out to her family and get their help.

"I think it's a good opportunity for the people to learn that they need to save money for what they want. If you really want to get home, you get that opportunity to get home and at least they're there to help you half the way so at least you're not trying to do it on your own waiting for years and years -- you got that help right there," Alyssa said.

Officials say the program will cost on average $300 a person -- money they say is well-spent to assure much-needed program services and resources go to local residents.

"I think that's a pretty good deal, you know, because it's really helping the person to be responsible, get help and then return back to the state -- in some ways -- a space that can be used by one of our local people to be able to be helped and supported," said Mitchell.

The state's Homeless Coordinator Colin Kippen believes those dollars could be spent more efficiently. Kippen says only 8 - 11% of Hawai'i's homeless population are non-residents who've been around for less than a year. But more importantly, he says the initiative doesn't solves the problems that cause homelessness.

"It has to be voluntary. If they're going to be returning they're going to have to want to return. It cannot be something that is coerced and we have to be sure that the services that they require are in place for them because if we don't do that -- what we're really doing is we're just continuing an individual or family's homelessness and we're not really solving the problem," said Kippen.

Critics say there's no guarantee those individuals won't turn around and come back.

IHS officials say so far only two people have expressed a willingness to work with their case managers to qualify for the program, but they eventually hope to help at least 120 people with flights home.

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