On a rainy day in Kaimuki, the Abercrombie administration unveiled its first initiative to help the homeless seek shelter from the storm.
The initiative establishes an outreach system where citizens can contact service providers when they see a homeless person who may need intervention. It’s the first step in a 90-day plan that will be unveiled after the Hawaii Legislature concludes May 5.
While details of the plan were not provided — for example, how it will be funded — Gov. Neil Abercrombie said it involves an integrated approach that includes state and county government and social service providers.
It also comes as Honolulu prepares to present its best face to the world with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in November.
When it comes to addressing homelessness, the governor said, “We will be relentless.”
Call Centers on Four Islands
The new initiative is a state partnership with organizations on four islands where citizens can call-in or email (email is preferred) at any time to notify a team to help a homeless individual or group.
The announcement was made at the Waikiki Health Center in Kaimuki with the governor, Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, state homelessness coordinator Marc Alexander and the center’s Darlene Hein all making statements and taking questions.
The four centers that are accepting reports from the public are:
Callers and emailers need to provide their contact information, and details on location and time and a description of the homeless individual or group. After a report is made, an outreach team will be assigned.
The outreach is not coercive; people can refuse services.
The idea, however, as Hein explained, is to develop trust with homeless people who may eventually accept health and safety assistance. The Waikiki Health Center reaches out to as many as 60 people a day.
Asked if he had heard of opposition from the ACLU of Hawaii about the expanded outreach efforts, the governor said he had not, adding, “There is no liberty in being homeless … there is no liberty in going hungry.”
Gov Detests Photo-ops
Several homeless people being served by the center watched the press conference as all the major media outlets in town covered the story. Alexander, the former vicar general for the Catholic Church in Honolulu, called the rain “a blessing.”
But Abercrombie stressed that his announcement was not a mere photo opportunity but a significant first step in tackling homelessness.
“This is not a one-shot deal — this is an ongoing process,” he said. “I detest photo ops. I don’t want to waste your time on them. They are not the government; they are self-serving political mechanisms.”
Abercrombie also said that his administration was working closely with the four county mayors to review the homeless initiative and make it a statewide approach.
Homelessness, officials stressed, should not be a “blame game” between levels of government, as it was between former Gov. Linda Lingle and former Mayor Mufi Hannemann.
But, with the APEC meeting on the near horizon, there is also a urgency to the new initiative. While homelessness is “everyone’s problem … a moral problem,” Schatz said APEC “has accelerated” the state’s efforts.
Alexander said the 90-day plan will focus on “relief, recovery and reform,” and Abercrombie said the next step will involve affordable housing.
The governor did not say how his plan would be funded, given the state’s deficit problems. But he said having the state take a visible lead in dealing with homelessness would like spur individuals and businesses to help.
“I can’t guarantee it, but if we never start we will never know,” he said, noting that the expanded call center system was a way to empower citizens who otherwise feel helpless about homelessness.
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