It was billed as a “homeless conference,” with no less than eight Senate committees gathered in the Capitol Auditorium to hear from government officials and stakeholders on the front lines of the crisis.

But only a handful of senators showed up and most senators could not stay for the half day the conference was scheduled to last. Thursday night was the deadline for many bills and Friday is the final deadline.

(I myself, who have attended many briefings and meetings on homelessness, had to leave after two hours, too.)

Dealing with homelessness and affordable housing is one of the more important issues at the Legislature this year. As Civil Beat has reported, there are dozens of related bills from the Senate, the House and the Abercrombie administration.

Yet, sometimes it seems like the same lawmakers keep hearing the same stories from the same people on the same topics.

As Bobby Hall, deputy director of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, joked to Sen. Suzanne Chun-Oakland in his remarks before the Senate committees, he’s been talking about this with her for decades.

The thing that would help social service providers and the government programs mitigate homelessness and provide more affordable housing is, well, money — something the Legislature doesn’t have right now.

Some of the well-meaning legislation may have to be shelved or at least scaled back because of the budget shortfall.

One bit of good news is Marc Alexander, Gov. Neil Abercrombie‘s point man to handle homelessness.

As Alexander said Thursday, speaking to the auditorium audience much like a preacher delivering an upbeat sermon, the homeless crisis is a priority for the governor.

“There is a strong and growing conviction that homelessness is not anybody’s problem but our problem,” he said. “The governor is pushing a unified and strategic approach.”

But that’s not something new. Gov. Linda Lingle said much the same.

Alexander is still new to his job, so he might be forgiven for preaching to the choir. He told Civil Beat that his employment paperwork was still being finalized, even though he was appointed on Jan. 24. Until it is finalized, he doesn’t even have an official office or phone to call his own.

But Alexander did have the chance to meet stakeholders and introduce himself to the senators that showed up. On Friday he and the governor were expected to meet with some of those same folks in the governor’s office.

And, on Saturday beginning at 9 a.m., a “homeless caucus” meeting will be held at Makiki Christian Church. Sens. Chun Oakland, Carol Fukunaga and Brickwood Galuteria are expected to attend, as is Rep. Karl Rhoads, Honolulu City Council Member Ann Kobayashi and representatives of various agencies.

“Our intent for this discussion is to discuss steps we can take within our community to address homelessness immediately and over the long term,” Fukunaga said in a press release.

“We want to take the discussion to a higher level,” said Rhoads in the same release. “By mobilizing our collective state and county efforts, we are seeking greater business/community involvement to provide alternatives that help move the homeless off the streets.”

Maybe this will be the year local government makes major strides in addressing homelessness and affordable housing. It’s encouraging that the Senate is taking the issues as seriously as the House has in recent years, and that there is greater awareness and cooperation.

But at some point, it seems, the briefings and meetings will have to stop and the hard decisions will have to be made to really address the crisis.

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