A homeless woman and her Pomeranian pooch are bound for the mainland, just not the way state Rep. John Mizuno envisioned.
He had planned to hold a press conference Friday morning to explain the middle-aged woman’s plight to the public and solicit donations for a one-way ticket that would take her back to her sister in New Jersey.
But at the last minute the woman’s family backed out. They decided that the publicity would be embarrassing for the woman and their family, who have strong ties to Hawaii, and they said they’d come up with the money for her flight.
In addition to helping the woman, Mizuno intended to highlight the greater need for the “return-to-home” program. The voluntary program aims to reunite homeless people with their relatives on the mainland by using taxpayer money to pay for the flights.
Mizuno, along with Reps. Rida Cabanilla and Tom Brower, have fought to launch such a program for the past few years. They managed to convince their colleagues to appropriate $100,000 this past legislative session to give it a try.
The DHS said that the decision was motivated, in part, by unexpected national attention to Hawaii’s plans to fly or ship some homeless people back to families on the mainland. (The original story that drew attention to the DHS’ plans is here.)
The department was concerned that the program would be seen as an invitation for tourists to buy a one-way ticket to Hawaii because taxpayers would cover their flight home, which could actually worsen the local homeless problem.
Mizuno has previously called a press conference to seek the community’s help in sending a homeless person back to family on the mainland. Just days after lawmakers failed to approve a return-to-home program in 2011, Mizuno spoke out to raise money for a plane ticket to reunite a mother and daughter from Texas. It worked.
While the press conference was canceled this time, Mizuno said he still views it as a success because the family agreed to help the woman and her dog return to family.
The woman became homeless last summer after she was evicted when she lost her caregiving job, Mizuno said. She lived on the streets because she couldn’t find a shelter that would take her dog, too.
The woman said in a statement Friday that she has never been homeless, and she never imagined that it would happen to her. Now she will return to her home state, where her siblings, son and daughter live.
“I dream of being with my family where I can eat hot meals, sleep without the thought of being raped, and where I can take a hot shower, and get back on my feet and secure a job,” she said.
Meanwhile, Mizuno said he plans to continue working to reunite mainland families with their homeless loved ones in the islands.
REPORTING ON HAWAII’S BIGGEST ISSUES
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