When it comes to the 2011 Legislature, local headlines have been dominated by budget woes, civil unions, death with dignity — even toy guns.

But one of the biggest stories this session may be efforts to create more affordable housing and alleviate homelessness.

It’s still early, and many of the bills may not survive.

But, by a Civil Beat count — searching for the words “homeless” and “housing” in bill titles — there are more than 20 House bills addressing affordable housing and more than 15 Senate bills.

A number of the affordable housing bills come from the administration’s package.

Some are companion bills and thus duplicates. But, all told, there are a hefty number of bills devoted to a single topic.

Similarly, about a dozen bills in the House are focused on homelessness, while the Senate has about a half-dozen.

And, many of the bills address both homelessness and housing. As many service provider will tell you, that makes sense: The single greatest thing that can be done to ease homelessness is to have more affordable housing including rentals and shelters.

Let’s highlight just a handful of those bills:

House Bill 70, which establishes a return-to-home program to assist eligible homeless individuals to return to their home state.

House Bill 753, which would lead to allowing homeless people to sleep in their cars in certain parking lots.

House Bill 430, which restores funding for homeless program positions in the Department of Human Services.

House Bill 1302, which puts money into developing a “parks for homeless” fund.

Senate Bill 109, which temporarily allows children to live with grandparents in elderly housing projects.

House Bill 1489, which establishes a “kanaka village” for homeless Native Hawaiians on Hawaiian home lands.

Senate Bill 900, which establishes a statewide interagency council on homelessness.

There are many others, including measures that help victims of domestic violence, offer job training, provide tax credits for developers of low-income housing and identify vacant state facilites that could be used for housing.

Though the bills are wide-ranging, they are often co-introduced by the same legislators, helping the chances of passage.

On the House side co-introducers include John Mizuno, Rida Cabanilla and Tom Brower — longtime advocates for the homeless and affordable housing — as well as Karl Rhoads, Scott Saiki, Della Au Belatti, Scott Nishimoto and others.

In the Senate it includes Suzanne Chun Oakland, Carol Fukunaga, Will Espero and Brickwood Galuteria.

Many of these lawmakers are concerned about how homelessness is affecting tourism, the state’s No. 1 economic driver.

Lawmakers Updated On Homelessness in Waikiki-Ala Moana

On Monday the House Tourism Committee, chaired by Brower, heard from people on the front lines of homelessness, like Father Marc Alexander, the governor’s point man on homelessness; Darlene Hein of Waikiki Care-A-Van and Tony Ching of the Hawaii Community Development Authority.

Hein said that between 100 to 200 homeless people congregate in coastal areas from Diamond Head to Waikiki, and from Ala Moana to Kakaako. Some are recent arrivals from the mainland.

“There is a homeless subculture that moves around a lot,” said Hein. “They get a general assistance Social Security check and cash it and they come here thinking it is paradise but then find out it is a big city. Some do not stay here. Some don’t know the culture, so they get robbed immediately and lose their ID.”

Hein said a new statewide “point in time” homeless count is expected in a couple of weeks that will help service providers understand how effective their efforts are.

Ching said the growing population of homeless in Kakaako is broken down into the chronically homeless, the newly homeless and Micronesians.

Ching said he is working with homeless service providers and legislators to help some of those homeless such as by giving them job training to clean area facilities that are used by the public.

Case in point: House Bill 1450 and Senate Bill 896, which establish homeless job training programs to be managed by the Department of Human Services.

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