State homeless sweep program comes with hefty price tag

State homeless sweep program comes with hefty price tag
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

Under a proposal before lawmakers, the state would create a team of 12 deputy sheriffs responsible for evicting homeless from state land.

The cost just to hire, equip and train the deputies in this task force is estimated at more than $2 million, according to the state Department of Public Safety.

But proponents say if it's done right, it's well worth the money.

The team would be charged with enforcing park rules, and keeping trespassers from under bridges and off other state land.

Like the city, a crew would also remove any trash left behind.

Officials have said that state departments have difficulty enforcing property rules. If the measure passes, the deputies would deal solely with those trespassing issues.

The idea has support from the state Attorney General and the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

But not everyone is behind it.

"It's a waste of taxpayer dollars," said Kathryn Xian, executive director of the Pacific Alliance Against Slavery. "We know that this system of sweeping people away and or incarcerating them for a short period of time is not working. It's also very damaging and traumatic for those who are extremely poor."

Kimo Carvalho, of the Institute for Human Services, which runs the state's largest emergency homeless shelter, said the measure would be stronger if it included funds to cross-train officers.

He pointed to the San Antonio, Texas police department, which created a mental health squad. The six-officer unit specializes in responding to people who have mental health and drug issues. The squad saves an estimated $10 million a year by keeping people out of the justice system.

"They prevented a lot of people from going into prison and instead navigated them into services,"  Carvalho said. "That's really the kind of safety net resources we need to design here."

Under the current measure, the Hawaii deputy sheriffs team could ticket or arrest violators. The bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.


Here's the state's breakdown of the costs of the program, if it were to launch Jan. 1, 2017:

  • 1 year's salary for 12 deputy sheriffs: $720,000
  • 6 vehicles for clean-up program: $240,000.
  • 6 months of new hire salaries, equipment and supplies: $390,000
  • 7 months overtime for current deputy sheriffs: $738,000

Total cost: $2.1 million

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