Mayor suspends Kaka'ako homeless sweeps, says they're 'not solving the problem'

Mayor ends Kaka'ako homeless sweeps, says they're 'not solving the problem'

KAKAAKO, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For the first time, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell has admitted the city's approach to ending homelessness in Kaka'ako is not working.

"It is very troubling.  We have done enforcements in the past but what happens is they just move onto other state property, stand there, let us clean everything up on the sidewalk, then we leave and they move right back," described Mayor Caldwell, who established an enforcement crew using existing Department of Facility Management and Parks funding after taking office in 2013 to respond to complaints of stored property preventing public access to parks and sidewalks and to deal with critical sanitation issues.

Since the sidewalk nuisance and stored property ordinances went into effect, the city has spent approximately $1,875,000 enforcing them.

"A year ago we put into place our compassionate disruption bills. We instituted sit-lie bills to move people out of Waikiki, out of Downtown, out of Chinatown -- but we didn't give them a place to go," said City Managing Director Roy Amemiya. 
Mayor Caldwell says the biggest obstacle his administration is facing is a lack of housing -- a challenge he says won't be solved without proper staffing, but the money needed to identify and secure affordable housing to get people off the streets is being tied up.

"They've cut our staff that we've asked for to do this and in turn they've added staff to their legislative side to deal with policy. It's beyond policy at this point. NIT's about action. We need those people to find units to move the folks in Kaka'ako into shelter and into permanent supportive housing. This is the compassionate side to our compassionate disruption program," Caldwell said.

The Mayor's office says enforcement has out-paced housing availability for the homeless, which is why he's requested $616,000 dollars to cover the cost of seven full-time positions to work on affordable housing projects designed to get people off the streets.

"What we're trying to do -- and here's a plea again -- is we're asking leadership at the Council to restore our funding if possible for our staffing for people to help us find units to put our homeless folks into, because what we're doing now is just moving them around. We do not want to go back to Kaka'ako until we have these units or some type of shelter space for them to move into otherwise we're not solving the problem," Caldwell said, adding that enforcement ended a few months ago and the homeless population in the area has now grown to about 500 people -- many of them families.

"There's going to be a major health problem if we don't partner up, work together and not work against each other -- and we're asking for that coming together to try to do this," Caldwell said. 
But the Mayor's request is not in the current version of the city's budget.
"He has more people than necessary I think and to grow the budget that way -- I'd rather use the money on the programs," said District 5 Council member Ann Kobayashi. 
The administration says without those positions, nine housing projects currently in the pipeline will be in jeopardy and far less homeless will be moved off the sidewalks.
"We don't have a housing department and we have a housing problem.  We need to hire some people now and funding is being cut," said Amemiya. 
Council member Kobayashi says the real obstacle is compassionate disruption has created new problems elsewhere.

"When the mayor introduced that sit-lie concept to try to solve the problem in Waikiki, I kept saying that then they're going to move into other areas and sure enough the homeless people moved across the Ala Wai and now they're in McCully and Mo'ili'ili.  We just have to build more housing. That's what we need affordable housing, affordable rentals," said Kobayashi. 
But Amemiya says that can't happen without a dedicated staff of experts. Right now, his staff is currently being paid through Housing and Urban Development grants and salary savings -- but he says that funding will not be available next year. 
"The people who suffer are those that are currently homeless those that are going to be homeless as well as many other people that are just struggling to get by," said Amemiya. 

With area shelters often at capacity, Hawaii News Now has asked from the beginning: why start enforcements when there wasn't enough housing to moving the homeless into? City officials say they had to take an aggressive approach to deal with the overwhelming number of complaints they were receiving and the critical sanitation issues. Caldwell's administration says they have budgeted a record $50 million to identify, create and reach out to the chronically homeless than get them into housing. They say while that progress hasn't been as immediate, they are making serious strides that will be derailed if the council cuts these positions.

The council's final budget vote is scheduled for June.

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