The Honolulu City Council is considering two new maintenance strategies for public parks and other facilities.
Both resolutions had their first hearings Tuesday at a meeting of the council’s Parks, Community and Customer Services Committee.
The resolution to make parks a community service site will likely face a hearing at the next full council meeting July 12, while the resolution to hire homeless people was deferred. Its author, Councilwoman Kymberly Marcos Pine, wanted another month to work out technicalities like ensuring nonprofits providing homeless workers aren’t charged for dropping off trash at city dump sites.
Department of Community Services Director Gary Nakata said the department fully supports the intent of Resolution 17-137, but encountered logistical issues with human resources after trying to establish a homeless workforce program a couple of years ago.
Still, he welcomed more discussion about the proposal with council members.
“As they say, work gives everybody a way to provide some dignity to themselves,” Nakata said, later adding the department “fully, fully support(s) the intent of helping the homeless and beautifying our parks.”
The Department of Community Services originally considered the idea after hearing about the success of a similar model in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he said. That city’s “There’s a Better Way” program created 1,750 day jobs, connected 226 people with employment services, put 20 people in housing and cleared 121,601 pounds of litter, according to Pine’s resolution.
The resolution points to other programs on Maui and in Reno, Nevada, and says the city should collaborate with nonprofits.
Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga said the nonprofit Mental Health Kokua has been working with Maui County to employ homeless people and suggested it may be open to helping with work on Oahu. Fukunaga represents downtown neighborhoods and said she had previously approached the group to see if Honolulu was a good candidate for a similar effort.
Amanda Ybanez, vice chair of the Kalihi-Palama Neighborhood Board, said she only knew two homeless people in Kalihi when she was a child, but now entire families are out on the street.
“We can’t just keep on pushing them from one side of the sidewalk to the next, we have to look for creative ways such as this to get them back into the community,” Ybanez said.
Councilman Ernie Martin, who introduced Resolution 17-162, said he was approached by a First Circuit Court administrative judge who said the judiciary would like to make arrangements for community service in parks. The judge had been trying unsuccessfully for months to establish an agreement between the parks department and the judiciary, Martin said.
He didn’t identify the judge.
“I’m hoping that we can take advantage of this program, because I know that there’s an ample supply of referrals that the judiciary will make available to the city,” Martin said. “… (It would) be a disservice to our constituency if we didn’t take advantage of free labor when it presents itself.”
The Honolulu Zoo and Neal S. Blaisdell Center already have arrangements with the judiciary to serve as community service worksites, according to Martin’s resolution.
In testimony to the committee, parks department Director Michele Nekota said that she plans to meet with the First Judicial Court, but doesn’t know when an agreement might be finalized. The department supports the effort to make parks community service sites and has had a similar program in the past, she said.
Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, the committee chair, lauded the previous iteration of the program and recalled that community service workers would pull weeds and trim bushes.