The Civil Beat Editorial Board Interview: Honolulu Community Services Director Anton Krucky - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Civil Beat Editorial Board

The members of The Civil Beat Editorial Board are Chad Blair, Patti Epler, Nathan Eagle, Kim Gamel and John Hill. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Not all members may participate in every interview or essay. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at cblair@civilbeat.org.


Editor’s note: The Civil Beat Editorial Board spoke Tuesday with Anton Krucky, the third director of the City and County of Honolulu’s Department of Community Services under Mayor Rick Blangiardi. This interview has been edited for length and clarity and for stories. Krucky began with an overview of his department, which has five divisions.

We have the Elderly Affairs Division, which really works with our kupuna and a lot of programs around that. They used to have further-reaching goals, but since the pandemic, they kind of reduced themselves to emergency reaction. Kupuna were a very high-risk group during the pandemic so feeding, keeping them connected — which is huge for their livelihood — and things like that. So now we’re emerging out of that. We’re doing a reorg in that division to sort of start to implement a longer term, broader reaching set of goals now that we’re moving out of the pandemic.

I also have a Customer Assistance Division, and this is the one you’re familiar with if I said Section 8 vouchers, right? But they do a lot more than that. They do home-assistance loans, rehab loans. We task them with emergency housing vouchers. And you’re going to see some pieces coming out on the city offering affordable fares and things like that. They’re the people that can analyze a person’s capability of qualifying.

Then we also have the Community Based Development Division, and they’re the people that do the HUD programs with all the (Community Development Block Grant) money, all the HOME money (HOME Investment Partnerships Act), the (Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS) money — the big federal programs. They’re also the group that manages the affordable housing plan.

I also have WorkHawaii, and (the division) is really probably one of the worst-kept secrets in the city. It’s a fantastic organization and it does multiple things. This is one organization that does direct outreach for me. So I have a couple of vans, they have social providers. And so in addition to the social providers network that we fund, we have a couple of groups that can go directly out.

Anton Krucky, Director of the Department of Community Services.
Anton Krucky, director of Honolulu’s Department of Community Services, met with the Civil Beat Editorial Board on Tuesday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

They also do all the work preparation stuff, the contracts with the state, those kind of things. They also have prison programs so people coming out of prisons get to work. We also have a rent-to-work program out of there where, if people go to work and we sign them up for that and they stay at work, will pay their rent. (It’s) an incredibly effective organization and not that well known on the street. But I expect to change that and I have my own visions about how this organization ought to engage.

And then we have the Grants In Aid department (Office of Grants Management) and that’s the one department where we don’t take federal money. We get the funds from the city. And it’s generally about $8 million to $10 million a year. And we’re the administration of that, because there’s a commission that does the scoring. And then after the scoring, we place that in front of the council. The council blesses it and then we administer the contracts out. Those are generally $150,000 to $200,000 contracts to organizations around the island. We try to make sure it’s well mixed around the islands. And we have some places that are specific to a district, how they get elevated ranking and such. We’ve also placed within that group our child care coordinator position we’ve hired through a partnership with Hawaii Community Foundation.

This is in the Grants In Aid program?

Yeah, we put it in that section. And the idea there is the mayor committed to understanding early childhood education and childhood child care. And so we brought in somebody who’s a specialist in that and he’s writing up our program. Ted Burke is his name. We’re going to come out of his piece of work and decide organizationally, how do we want to do this? Where do we want that office placed? How many people in it? Are we going to do it as community services or are we going to put it in a different place? But we’ll have a focus different than the state on execution in child care. Such a huge issue for our state.

Okay, that’s a big kuleana, as they say, in five different areas. Ballpark, what’s your annual budget?

Well, I’d like to be up to 190 to 200 people, but I have about 165, 170 now. So we’re in the hiring process and it’s hard to say what my budget is because 88% of it’s federal dollars. And, you know, that’s ballooned up during the pandemic. So it could be anywhere from $200 million to $300 million in what we do.

Community Services is experiencing the same struggle that Mayor Blangiardi was speaking about just a couple of months ago with us — staffing generally. Is it fair to say that afflicts your department as well?

Oh, very much so. And just the processes to get the people hired. But one of the things that’s a little different about us is because we have so many federal programs that are granted, we have a lot of contract employees versus civil service employees. And I’m trying to change that mix because I think that some of the contracts have enough history in them and enough longevity I can train those people in a civil service, which changes my mix of people and their dedication and everything else. So I see myself as not just executing to the issues of the day but leaving a better organization behind. And I think from my experience in large organizations that I know what kind of moves have to be made — and they don’t happen all at once. But I can leave a better organization to manage the issues going forward.

Prior to your current position, you were at the Office of Housing and Homelessness, correct?

That’s correct.

And then my understanding is that there was an effort to somehow combine resources, staff and so forth within your new department. Do I understand that correctly?

Yes. When I moved over from that office, the plan was to put the Office of Housing and Homelessness underneath me because of my experience in the office and such. But then after I hired a new deputy, Aedward Los Banos, and then I hired Trish La Chica to do the Office of Housing work for me. But then she decided she really wanted to take this on herself. And so we left it where it was. But now Trish has left. And so now we’re hiring to that position again and we’re trying to figure out strategically what’s the best way.

Anton Krucky, director of the Honolulu mayor's office of housing and homelessness, wants to change the way the city responds to people on the street.
Krucky was formerly director of the city’s Office of Housing and Homelessness before switching to Community Services. He now manages both. Courtesy: Honolulu Mayor's Office

Although homelessness and housing are connected — they clearly are — the disciplines to achieve each are very different. I mean, it’s one thing to understand them, but, you know, to be a developer and to attack subjects that way with the financing, the permitting and all those kind of things, acquisition strategies, all that is one set of skills. And the social services provided to get somebody in homelessness to engage a system are another set of skills. So we’re trying to figure that out. And I was just with the mayor all day today. We talked about that. We haven’t decided yet.

So are you running two departments right now?

He asked me to do an awful lot. Like right now I’m putting together a homelessness plan for the city, and that’s not really my department and the other ones. But, you know, if the mayor asks.

Will there be any change to the title if it’s absorbed? I mean, will housing and homelessness just become another one of your units? Or do you still envision it being a stand-alone department? I want to make sure I understood that clearly.

I think as a director for the city, I could have different departments underneath me and I would still stay the director of that department. And what’s in a name really?

Well, that’s the other question I was going to ask you, is it wise or appropriate to combine housing and homelessness? I realize there’s a clear connection, but others have pointed out that that’s maybe not the appropriate thing to do. Should it stay an Office of Housing and Homelessness and be treated together as one package?

So when I first came into that office, one of the goals was to build up that office. And so I tried to take that on by building up people with some housing experience and people that wanted to serve some social services. Because really there’s not an answer to your question. It’s really a pendulum. And I know from my corporate experience what happens is, is when you have a void on this side, the pendulum moves toward it. But what it does, it creates a void over here. So, yes, it makes sense to put them together. Yes, it doesn’t make sense to put them together. And how are you going to do that?

I know how to be a CEO. I know what a COO does.

It’s even like, how do you organize yourself in your department? When I looked at my department, my first experience in the city (was) where deputies and directors kind of work together — two in every meeting. And I said, “Well, I don’t need to do that. I’ve been in corporate America. I know how to be a CEO. I know what a COO does.

I can have a COO completely operate as a COO. And so I kind of operate community services like that. That’s the only way I can navigate those five divisions, and that’s a little bit different. But you have to have confidence in the person and you also have to know how to do it. How you set that up, how do you set it up to succeed, how you empower people, how you engage them, and then how you stay together, connected so that the people see you as one voice.

Blangiardi has made a big point about wanting to bring on people who normally were not in government and have not had that kind of background. And I was surprised to look at yours — most recently, president and CEO of Tissue Genesis. Could you explain what that is — it sounds intriguing. And prior to that you were general manager with the IBM Corporation Pacific. That was a pretty big deal to switch gears like that. What drew you to work for the public?

I was in IBM and I was brought out here to consolidate all the five divisions that IBM had in the Pacific and then run them as a general manager. So that’s what I did. Now, why come here? Because I’m Hawaiian. So I thought this was the greatest thing. My family comes from Hawaii. I was born in Japan because of the Korean War, but my sisters were all born here and my mother’s from here. I’m part Hawaiian.

So I thought coming out here and servicing the community was good because not only did I get to run IBM’s business, but I also got to run all their interactions with the community.

Honolulu Hale the skyline of downtown buildings in the background.
Krucky’s background is in business. He came out of retirement to work at Honolulu Hale. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

And so one of the many different things in the community that IBM did was we started the Alu Like job training center here. And that program was very, very successful in bringing people that didn’t have jobs, bringing them into the fold of working. And, you know, seeing their lives as being productive. They’re thriving. And that makes your day. It really makes your day.

I had to leave IBM because I had adopted a couple of children from Eastern Europe, and one of them had significant health issues. I couldn’t service them here. And so I searched around the country for the best place to service them and ended up it was going to be Johns Hopkins in Baltimore or the University of Washington in Seattle. And so I ended up choosing the University of Washington, and I went up there and retired from IBM. And then while I was doing that, these guys from Tissue Genesis approached me. And so they had this idea of Tissue Genesis — regenerative medicine. Basically what they did was they had a technology that could extract your adipose tissue, which is your fat cells. They could process them in a device, and an hour later in a syringe, have your stem cells ready, regenerative cells just for you, because they’re your cells.

I’ve been retired twice. I guess it’s not all what it’s made out to be.

So I was helping them raise money to do that. And so we got congressionally directed funds from (the late) Senator (Daniel) Inouye. And then when we were deploying those funds, I thought maybe I’d be a shareholder and such. And I got the word from the senator’s office. “He’s really excited about this program. Maybe you and Senator (Ted) Stevens can replicate it in Alaska, but he’s really glad you’re going to be at the helm of the company.”

Fair to say not the typical background for a city director?

No.

Who called who? Did the mayor get on the phone? Did you guys know each other before?

We sat on some boards together — Chaminade, YMCA. I was told by (former judge) Michael Broderick, who was helping his campaign, “We want you to be in the mix.” So I went and applied. I said, “Mayor, really glad to help you out.” Then I got a phone call from him and he asked me down to his condominium with (managing director) Mike Formby. He said, “Look, you got all the marks you need … I really need you to do this, because I made a lot of promises in my campaign about homelessness, and I’m very firm on my promises. But I need somebody to really sort it out.”

And so they talked to me for a couple of hours and I said, “Let me go ask my wife.” And so I did, you know, before you jump in the pool. And so I came back and said I’d be honored to do it. So I was retired from Tissue Genesis. I’ve been retired twice. I guess it’s not all what it’s made out to be.

Is the mayor making good on his promises, particularly for affordable housing and homelessness?

Two tough areas. And how do you know exactly? The metrics on that are difficult. So let’s take homelessness to start with. When we came in, you hadn’t done a Point in Time count for a year because of the pandemic. You could look around and things have become really snarled because there just wasn’t any management on the street because nobody was on the street. So they’re the only folks on the street. And, you know, they’re working their own survival process along the way.

And so I said, well, how can you deal with this? I have a basic fundamental strategy that all the programs lay out front. It really breaks it into two pieces. One is you have to respect the person’s right on the street to make a decision about themselves. So how do you get them to make a decision to engage the system for the betterment of themselves, whatever that is? It could be a shelter, it could be drug treatment, it could be whatever it is. And so what systems can you put in place to make those decisions happen more than they’re happening today?

Tents along the sidewalk at Moiliili Neighborhood Park as a sweep happens inside the park. The people move their belongings on the public sidewalk to avoid having their possessions taken.
Tents along the sidewalk at Moiliili Neighborhood Park during a recent sweep. Krucky says “compassionate disruption is not a homeless strategy.” Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

And then the other was, if somebody raises their hand and makes a decision, do I have a system that can service it, whether it be medical respite, whether it be shelters, whether it be affordable housing, whether it be immediate housing surrounded with care, whatever it is, villages and everything else. And that’s what I analyzed.

And so one of the things that we really try to do is — one of the mayor’s statements was — compassionate disruption is not a homeless strategy. I believe in that, because you’re just going in and you’re asking people to move based on sit-lie laws and then you’re cleaning up and then you say, “Okay, we made you uncomfortable. Now you’re going to engage the system.” Well, that just hadn’t proved to work. It doesn’t work. But we still need to clean up our streets. But it’s not a homeless program.

See, the thing is, people said that and you’re targeting homeless — no wonder it doesn’t work. It’s a cleanup effort — 50,000 tons of trash is cleaned off the street through that method. We do need to do that. And it sends a message that we manage our streets, which is important because one of the influxes of homeless comes from out of the state. And there’s a coconut wireless. And people have to understand, what’s it like here. Is it easy to live here? Is it really easy to be homeless here? So you do want to say you manage your streets, but it’s not a homeless program.

Well, let me follow up on two things there because it took us into some new directions. When you are cleaning the streets, you’re also disrupting the people. You are moving them around. We just reported a couple of months ago when the mayor had a big clean out and there was some debate about the terminology that’s being used. But the other thing is this idea that the word gets out on the coconut wireless. Are you saying people fly here because they know it’s more desirable to be homeless? Because there’s some debate about how accurate that is.

Well, I think so. So I have a gut feel on how accurate it is. If I ask (homeless coordinator) Scott Morishige at the state, he goes, “Hey, there’s interstate commerce laws. You can’t prevent it.” Right. But if I ask Connie Mitchell with the Institute for Human Services when we opened up the state for travel after Covid, did we see a spike? And she goes, “Yes.” So I don’t know. It’s not empirical data. We’d like to find out, “Did you get your ticket from a from a government organization, or was it just people that donated to a shelter and bought you a ticket?”

That being said, I think that what we want to do is a better job of organizing our service providers when we’re going to do a cleanup so they can engage their people and such. But I would also tell you that a lot of times service providers, they say, “Hey, we lose track of somebody.” I just don’t buy that, because the people don’t move more than two blocks. So, I mean, I hear that. But if you worked hard at it, you wouldn’t lose that person.

So when you do enforce the sit-lie laws, are those folks being helped or are they just moving two blocks away?

We’re trying to, absolutely trying to in all the ways that we can. And in addition, we don’t just throw away their stuff. We tell them, “What do you want to keep?” and everything else. But there is fallout in that. So you could point to the negative side, say well, that person lost their ID or they did this. But management on the street is difficult. But that being said, it’s not targeted at the people. It’s targeted at the junk on the street. And that’s the difference. Not targeting the individual.

Right. And that’s an ordinance. You know, we talk a lot about solving the homeless problem, and you talk about it not targeting the people but the trash on the street and putting together a homeless program. What is your definition of success for solving the homeless problem? 

Well, I think thinking about clean streets is the wrong subject. How I measure success is twofold. One is, can I segment it? Because each individual’s needs are different. And so true success happens one at a time. Whatever that person’s need is, if that gets addressed and they accept it then you’ve had success. And there’s a lot of stories of people I can talk to that we’ve helped. Their life is different and everything else.

At the same time, there’s segmentations in the market that their needs are similar. And so that’s how you come up with government programs. I don’t want to say that “all of you need this, but there’s a section of you that need this.” And if I can provide this, then I can get that section to be interested in it.

A good example would be Oahu Housing Now. So I have Section 8 vouchers. We have a waiting list where we have 4,000 vouchers out there. We’re managing them, we’re doing all this. When you do Section 8 vouchers, you’re going after the most chronic homeless people. And those are the people that don’t want to become housed. And so we’re playing all this effort to them. And that’s what the previous administration did with Housing First. So let’s take this (federal) CARES Act money where I have freedom to move and let’s go after people that want to be housed and let’s get them off the street. Let’s segment them out and get them off the street so that we’re dealing with fewer people. Because that’s how you deal with a big problem is you try to make it smaller and then you’re dealing with a smaller problem.

So last year we took CARES Act Money, we put it out there. I took 301 families off the street — out of shelters or off the street, 458 people that aren’t there anymore. I mean, you can talk about how bad it is, but there’s 458 people that aren’t there anymore. I get off at King Street when I get off the freeway and I come down Beretania through the city. And I will tell you that section right there and next to Moiliili Field next to the insurance company used to be just awful. That camp is completely gone next to the insurance company. I don’t have anybody in front of Kokua Marketplace and I’d say about 30% of the people in front of the field. Now, where have they gone? Some of them we’ve helped. Some have just moved up to the Korean park. So I get it.

The park that’s on King Street?

Right. And so what do we do to address that? You’re searching for their solutions. What will work for them? So when you talk about success — and I have a mother with two kids that was scared to death on the street and she had just gotten there and we housed her. And she’s so thankful, you know, and I’m telling them, “Don’t get on your knees … I’m happy to do it. I’m thanking you for saying yes.” You know, that’s what we need. So, I measure success one at a time, but I work on numbers. And so we did the Point In Time count — not an exact science by any means.

In January?

Yeah. When I was a sociology and criminology major in school, when you do statistics, if you do something similar in the method, the methodology — you can look at trends in it, what it looks like. It doesn’t have to be correct, but it’s similar in comparison. And so we were down 18% from homelessness from the Point In Time count before. I’d say it probably means we were down somewhere 25% to 30% because we have influx of people either that were housed, that became homeless or came in from the outside. So that’s something good. I can tell you when I talk to that woman with the two kids, that’s a good thing.

But we have people that are dedicated to being homeless now. We have a society that has developed in a way where it’s difficult to deal with people with mental illness. People want to do open-air drug use. They’re dedicated to it. So they won’t accept services. That’s the life they want. And we’ve let it happen long enough that we’re living with it. So if we live with it, let’s make it a little bit smaller and then we have a smaller group to deal with. And I just think you just have to look at it that way or you get exhausted.

Affordable housing is another intractable problem on Oahu. So I wonder if you can talk about the plans to deal with that — for example, this new project that’s being developed — the six projects that will create almost 1,000 units within five years. It’s only been a couple of months, but could you give us an update on where that is.

The money is being lent to them. I’ve got it in purchasing, the checks are supposed to be getting written. The mayor asked me today, “Give me the exact status of where the check is.” Some of those projects are well-vetted in terms of their communities. A couple of projects still have community work to do.

But if we step back in affordable housing, if you listen to developers like Stanford Carr or Christine Camp, Stanford would tell you it takes you six to eight years to learn this deal. So I’m in it less than two years, so I don’t even propose to understand it completely, all the dynamics. But I can listen to smart people like that. I can get smart people around me and then I can try to execute to the best-end goals I can and make sure they do all the work in between that make it work right. So affordable housing funds. Here’s how I approach that. So in Community Services, I do acquisitions, but they’re Community Based Development Grant acquisition. So those would be buying properties that would be surrounded with services for people? So it’s not just the acquisition of a property and developing it.

I also own the Affordable Housing Fund, which is funded by a half a percent of property tax per year. There is a charter amendment question to raise that to a percent.

From o.5% to 1%.

Yes, so at 0.5%, you get about $7 million, $8 million, $9 million depending on the year. So you get double that if the charter amendment passes.

And generally speaking, when you look at development in affordable housing by nonprofit developers, this is very different than for-profit developers that are looking for ways to pencil in projects. Nonprofit developers, very different. They’re already predisposed to not making a lot of money on this thing, but they develop their stacks, what they call them. And a stack is a series of financing that in the end says, “I only have to put this amount of money in to finish the project. And if I get this amount of money paid for by outside forces, but at the cost of this much, then there’s a little bit there to make it happen.” Developers are looking for a little bit more in that. That’s why they look for permitting variations. They’re looking for all these things to drive the cost down in addition to financing.

But what I discovered in reading through all this stuff, being new to it, is that we were always the first money in. And so what that meant is if we grant somebody $5 million, then they walk around town with that $5 million, saying, “You ought to lend me some money, you ought to do this. You want to do that.” I said, “I want to score projects high where we’re the last money in, because we’re the ones that are going to kick these projects off to make them happen. And so what was generally a nine-year development cycle, we reduced it to five. And not only reduced it to five, but of those six projects, people will be walking into a couple of them next year. That’s a huge difference.

But that’s the kind of response you need in a crisis situation. And affordable housing is a crisis situation. It’s a crisis because people can’t make ends meet or they’re working two jobs or both people are working. And the ramifications of all those things permeate everything that happens — to what child care is like, to what someone’s being raised without. All sorts of different issues. And so that’s what we were trying to do.

So now I get another $10 million at the end of June 30, July 1. But I’m going to put out another solicitation this fall. I’m going to put together that $10 million, and I can conjure up another $20 million and try to do another $30 million affordable housing solicitation. So that’s planned for this fall.

We have to walk in step with the state because the state does a lot of the financing. The banks do a lot of the financing. The city’s now going to do private activity bonds, which is really important because we were automatically moving those private activity bonds to the state, and they would manage it. But when the state manages private activity bonds, 20% goes to utilities, to HECO and everything else. So we were giving up 20% of what we were giving them.

Probably even more with the rates going up.

Right. So let the state manage that. But I’m going to take all my private activity bonds and apply them to affordable housing loans. So that was a significant thing done by the Blangiardi administration. That is a significant move and that fund will be run out of the Department of Planning and Permitting.

About Housing First. It’s a program that has been proven to work. Is the city going to increase the number of Housing First vouchers that it offers?

Well, Housing First — everybody bought into this. So you really have to understand from like 10 years ago, 12 years ago, because the only thing I could do when I came to the job is read the history. And so when people came up with Housing First, that was all these intellectual studies out of Seattle that worked, and then everybody bought it nationally. And what that really meant was if you place somebody in housing and surround them with services, you’ll end homelessness.

So it’s a question to me how successful it is. It’s successful where it’s successful. But it’s not successful as an overall strategy. And so I think that part of it was people were so exasperated with open-air drug use, they said, “Well, okay, if we put you in a place with no rules because you won’t go into shelters because there’s rules. So we’ll put you in a house, surround you with support, but there’s no rules. Go do whatever you’re going to do. Just like, you know, I could have a glass of wine or beer in my house. You can go do what you want in your house.” Does that work?

So are there going to be more? We’re going to continue to fund housing people and surrounding services for the people that that works for. Yes. And it’s not only going to be less, it’ll be more, but it’s not the only strategy. And I would tell you that if you read the homelessness plan for the previous administration, it was the only strategy.

It sounds like it was in your view presented as a bit of a panacea, that it really is not quite the solution that everyone has played it up to be. And that’s something your administration, the mayor’s administration, recognizes as a change from the previous administration — the focus on Housing First.

Yeah, I think you keep it where it works. And then if it’s not working in all these areas, let’s go do something else there.

Does it work only in neighborhoods where people want it to be? Because that’s a big problem on this island, NIMBY. There’s only so much land. Is that part of the challenge with Housing First?

NIMBY-ism is a huge challenge. “I want affordable housing and I want my kid to buy a house and everything else. I just don’t want it around me. I’ve got mine and that’s it.” But it’s our problem. You know, if that’s the way we’re going to be, then it’s difficult.

What do you think the long-term solution for affordable housing looks like? It seems like the direction is sort of building these affordable housing units — because it’s hard to control the market to make houses affordable.

Well, I think you’re going to see for-profit with some mixtures of affordable in it. It’s just we got too far where the affordable units in a building weren’t there long enough. We gave you all these benefits permitting — why? So you can pencil in your project. And there were, you know, 20 affordable units, but it was only 10 or 15 years, and now they go to market and that’s how the guys pencil it in. So we’re trying to make it a little longer term.

And then let’s still let market dynamics go. But it gets difficult. I think one of the great opportunities in this is workforce housing along the TOD because the transit oriented development, that’s one of the side benefits of rail with all of its different issues and all of its challenges and everything else. The transit oriented development permitting along the rail line gives you a lot of options, height and different things that you can use and development. And I don’t think you can evaluate the results of all that until we look back 20 years.

Is there anything that can be done with zoning to just allow more housing?

Yeah, I think everybody’s looking at that now. I think the shake up in the permitting process will look at zoning. But, you know, a lot of that lays within the state’s kuleana. There are some competing forces here, some people that are absolutely adamant about ag land staying ag lands. And that’s where a lot of the land is. There’s benefits to all of those discussions. So you have to kind of weigh them out and see where you can land. So we’ll see.

Switching gears from affordable housing to homelessness, the CORE program is approaching its one year mark since starting operations. Crisis Outreach Response and Engagement.

We researched programs in Pittsburgh and Denver, the Cahoots Program (Crisis Assistance Helping out on the Streets). And so after we did all that and we wanted to design the program, we did something fundamentally different than any of those cities did. Each of those cities, what they did was they made it a program and they contracted a service provider to do it. The good part about that was you had a very soft approach by the service providers — they are (not the police). They’re a service provider. But I didn’t know where it was going to go. And if I contract with a service provider, I’m stuck in that contract. The service providers are only going to provide the services that are deemed in that contract because that’s how they get paid.

A CORE team approaches a woman to intervene outside of the Makiki Inn along Wilder Avenue. The program was inspired by similar ones in other municipalities. David Croxford/Civil Beat/2022

So I said we need to make it city employees. Because that way as we go, we can figure this out. We can see what are the leverage points, what are the best parts about it, what do we want to get rid of? And we can be flexible strategically. That’s very important. When you’re developing programs like you’re trying to sell a product and business, you want to be nimble enough that you can make changes. But the way government worked with doing a service they took away any kind of flexibility they had. And so I built it into the system.

And then I said on the steps of City Hall one day with Jim Ireland (Department of Emergency Services director), we’re looking at the ambulance. And he said, “Anton, I can do this.” And we got these old ambulances, we’ll rebrand them and we could put them out. I can get the wheels on a street a little bit sooner and I can do this.” We shook hands and that’s where it was born.

It’s really important because it turns out that because they come from emergency services, they’re bent on medical repair of an individual. So it turns out that that’s what they’re using as a way to build relationships. And so what they can build relationships, find people by caring for them physically. And then if we now can provide them places like in Chinatown, where we’re going to do medical respite. I’ve got stabilization beds on Dillingham. We have places to take the people. They develop relationships with them now.

How is the River of Life work going? It’s been six, seven months since the relocation of public feeding operations from Chinatown to new hubs on Oahu.

Walk down the street. I think in terms of that, it’s working. But more importantly, I ran into Rann Watumull (the mission’s board president) a couple of months ago and we sat down and talked and he said, “Anton, we actually are placing more people than we placed before.”And this was two months ago. He says we housed 10 people. So we’ve tried to team them up with other teams that go out to parks and things like that that might be doing medical work and they bring their food along. And they have time to sit on the bench and talk story. And before you know it they find somebody that’s interested in getting services, and they didn’t know.

And is the facility now out of Chinatown?

They cook there, and then they take it out. They go mobile. And they have a chocolate factory there, too. So they have a retail aspect to it. They sell chocolates.

Any final point you want to make?

Well, I would just like to say that it’s a very complex set of issues from affordable housing to homelessness. Complex is different than complicated. And hopefully, as you listen to me talk, you can take any individual thing that is complicated and put it into a view that appreciates complexity, because complexity is OK. You can manage it because it’s logical. Complicated means it’s all over the place and it’s not predictable.

River of Life Mission staff sharing chili meals and giving out clothes to people along Sumner Street near the Institute of Human Services. Under the Blangiardi administration, the mission is no longer a shelter but instead makes deliveries around Oahu. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

And I would just like to say that as we put together the strategies that we have, I’ve tried to take some very disparate things and understand — not minimize their complexity and try to make it simplistic, but do it in a way that appreciates the complexity but makes your actions doable while you do them. You want to make people actionable so that they’re not just stuck. That’s not what you do. The problem is workable. We just have to sort it in a way that I can get you to do something. And then in the end, if we have a little bit smaller problem now, we can analyze it differently.

I think there’s great appreciation here at this table for how difficult these things are. And you’re dealing with people. And when you’re dealing with people, you have to understand that it’s not just something you decide. Everybody gets to decide what they’re doing, but you want to make it in a way that works best for all concerned.


Read this next:

Hawaii's East-West Center 'Is Undergoing A Renaissance' With More Eyes On Pacific Affairs


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The members of The Civil Beat Editorial Board are Chad Blair, Patti Epler, Nathan Eagle, Kim Gamel and John Hill. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Not all members may participate in every interview or essay. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at cblair@civilbeat.org.


Latest Comments (0)

Homelessness is a consequence of a forty years of disinvestment in the middle class engineered by Milton Friedman's ideas releasing the rich from taxes and the commodification and privatisation of all aspects of life fron cradle to grave. Under Eisenhower the top rax rate was 92%. This allowed 2 million GI to receive free college tuition. Trades and manufacturing exploded as 10 million went from working in defense manufacturing to creating the highway system and cars that were the envy of the world. Now the richest pay no taxes, own the banks and bottom 40% of the economic spectrum fight over a shrinking piece of the economic pie (7%). We have more inequality now than in the time of the robber barons.Tourism is colonial servitude with a tip.Its true milirary spending gives civilians jobs at Pearl harbor but 4 or 5 large companies like Boeing and Raytheon get the lions share of the 850 billion we budget for defense each year. Diverting one year of military spending toward a civilian works project would resurrect the trades, build roads and shelter for the poorand jump start the working middle class. We have the talent and resourcest to do this but lack the will.

JM · 1 month ago

Thank you, C.B. Very informative article.

katshimata · 1 month ago

This is a well researched article. It would be nice if Mr. Krucky were also in charge of doing something with the corrupt and inadequate DPP so that we could finally agree on zoning. They say they don't have enough inspectors but they took eight of them (?) and placed them in charge of going after short term vacation rentals, when they don't even know the facts about the good vs. the harm these are doing in neighborhoods. There should be a COMPREHENSIVE plan to tackle housing costs which includes discussions on military housing, vacation rentals, monster houses, paving over ag lands, tourism impacts, real estate buying and selling claims, and what zoning laws actually make sense!! Half the residents skirt zoning laws to suit themselves and complain about others. Let's be clear on this.

kailua_kamaaina · 1 month ago

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