State Rep. Rida Cabanilla wants Gov. Neil Abercrombie to reconsider an idea that his administration has already shot down.
In a news release Monday, Cabanilla urged the governor to release $100,000 that the Legislature approved in 2013 for a three-year “Return to Home” pilot program. The initiative provides money for one-way tickets so eligible homeless individuals from the mainland can return to their families.
The issue garnered broad national attention after Civil Beat broke the news last July that lawmakers had quietly approved funding for the program during the 2013 legislative session. The Hawaii Department of Human Services, worried that thousands of people might descend on Hawaii with the expectation of a free ride home, responded by taking a firm stand.
“We are not in the business of relocating homeless individuals and families to other states,” said DHS Director Patricia McManaman said in August, adding that the $100,000 allocation would be returned to the state general fund.
A homeless man sleeping in Waikiki.
PF Bentley/Civil Beat
McManaman has told state lawmakers for years that the program won’t reduce homelessness because it would be expensive to administer and is ripe for exploitation.
Still, Cabanilla and other supporters, like Reps. John Mizuno and Tom Brower, don’t see it as a silver bullet as much as another tool the state can use to help alleviate the worsening homelessness problem in the islands.
“This appropriation is much needed to decrease the homeless population in our state, to return these stranded homeless individuals from the mainland to an environment of their choosing, and most importantly to preserve these funds for our own homeless kamaaina,” Cabanilla said in the statement. “Let us implore the Governor to release the money and create the program.”
She said the program would possibly save Hawaii taxpayers millions of dollars in welfare costs that would have been spent on homeless individuals who have come to live in the state.
Last month, media outlets reported that local businesses were looking at establishing an airfare fund for homeless people from the mainland.
Mizuno told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that he was glad the Waikiki Improvement Association — a group of business owners, community members and others trying to make Hawaii’s tourist hub a better place — was trying to revive the concept.
Oahu’s homeless population has increased 30 percent since 2009, according to a federal survey in May. It estimates that there are 1,445 homeless people on the island.
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