Honolulu City Council Chair Ernie Martin has proposed boosting funding to combat homelessness by $32 million for the 2015 fiscal year.
He’s also seeking to add additional funds to the budget to ensure the purchase of a conservation easement at Turtle Bay.
The 11th hour moves come as the City Council approaches a June 4 deadline to finalize the budget.
The $32 million inserted into the city’s capital improvement budget would go to a Homeless Relocation Initiative that would move homeless families and individuals from parks, sidewalks and other public places into emergency, transitional or permanent shelters, according to a press release from Martin’s office.
The proposal, which is expected to be debated during a full City Council meeting in early June, would redirect general obligation bonds from Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s street rehabilitation program.
“The city’s road and restoration effort has built up a strong momentum and this modest reduction shouldn’t detract from that,” Martin said in the press release. “The mayor should be commended for the road repairs, but clearly homelessness is now the highest priority for the city.”
Caldwell has trumpeted his road repaving program as a top priority of his administration, setting aside $140 million in the proposed budget that he submitted to the Council in February.
The mayor has also pushed hard to address the issue of homelessness, but has faced resistance from the City Council.
The Caldwell administration spent weeks fighting for its Housing First program, which would move the chronic homeless into housing. The mayor had hoped to secure more than $20 million to combat homelessness for the 2015 fiscal year. But the City Council slashed that funding by more than half.
The mayor made a last ditch effort earlier this week to garner support for his policy.
Caldwell is hoping the City Council will reconsider a proposal to hike real property taxes in Waikiki for resorts and hotels by $1 per $1,000 of value. The City Council had agreed to a 50 cents hike, but the mayor is pushing again for the full increase in order to raise $4 million to help address homelessness in Waikiki.
“Homelessness has evolved to the point that it has become a major problem that is affecting our visitor industry, and it is our number one industry. As we know, it drives our economy,” he told the Council’s Budget Committee during a Tuesday hearing. “As Waikiki goes, so does Oahu and so does the entire state of Hawaii.”
“I want to do more to address the issue.”
It remains to be seen whether the City Council will consider Caldwell’s proposal.
Under Martin’s latest proposed budget amendment, funding to combat homelessness would increase to $50 million this upcoming fiscal year.
In the past, Martin has criticized Caldwell’s homeless policy for focusing too much on homeless individuals instead of homeless families.
However, as the Caldwell administration has pointed out in the past, the problem of homeless individuals far exceeds that of families. There are an estimated 1,445 homeless individuals on the streets, compared to 188 unsheltered people with families, according to a recently released survey required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Homelessness on Oahu has increased by 30 percent since 2009, according to the survey.
Martin has also proposed adding an additional $3.5 million for the conservation easement to protect 665 acres at Turtle Bay. With much fanfare, Gov. Neil Abercrombie recently signed into law a bill to purchase the easements needed to protect the land at a cost of $48.5 million.
The city is responsible for $5 million of that, with $3.5 million coming from the Trust for Public Lands.
Martin said the additional funding would act as insurance to make sure that the deal goes through.
“The land preservation agreement is too important to take any chances,” he said in a statement.
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