What to do about homelessness?

The Lingle-Aiona administration says it takes building shelters, improving data collecting systems, working with social-services agencies, dealing with mental illness and drug addiction, improving education and job skills and building affordable housing and rentals.

Imagine a Republican scoring points by accusing his Democratic opponent of being cold and heartless when it comes to addressing homelessness.

That was the case in June when both Barry Fukunaga, Gov. Linda Lingle‘s chief of staff, and Jonah Kaauwai, chairman of the Hawaii Republican Party, said then Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann was more interested in kicking homeless out of parks then solving the problem of homelessness.

Hannemann and his staff defended their record as better than their critics deemed it, but the charge stuck. Neil Abercrombie made similar attacks when the two competed in the Democratic primary for governor.

Aiona, by contrast, has proved an outspoken supporter for addressing Hawaii homelessness.

In the same week that Republicans were assailing Hannemann, Aiona addressed a homeless summit attended by representatives from service providers like the Office for Social Ministry, Institute for Human Services (IHS), Weinberg Village Waimanalo and the Roman Catholic Church in Hawaii.

“From my perspective, as a father of four children and a former state family court judge, it’s all interrelated — a vicious cycle,” said Aiona, who tied the problem of homelessness to substance abuse and alcohol abuse. “Finding a solution is always going to be elusive because you are dealing with human nature, and that is very complex.”

There’s no “magic bullet,” said Aiona. The closest answer “is right here in front of us, everyone doing their part, a collective response.”

The Lingle-Aiona administration’s approach to homelessness has been collaborative.

In June the state released a report that showed in fiscal year 2009 more than 4,000 persons were moved into permanent housing through state homeless programs, more than 11,000 homeless people received services from outreach provider agencies throughout the state, and more than 9,000 homeless people utilized services at homeless shelters.

The number of unsheltered homeless dropped in 2009, thanks in part to a doubling of shelter space.

Why is homelessness important to Aiona?

“I think it’s just humanity as a whole, my faith is such that it is part of our ministry to help those in need, and homeless people are those that are in need,” he told Civil Beat, saying that compassion drives him “toward trying to help that population as best as I can.”

Aiona added, however, that he gets frustrated by the portion of homeless people who don’t want to be helped — “the ones who are doing it because they want to do it, the ones who choose to be — you could say homeless — but they just choose not to follow rules, they choose to have independence, and as such, ‘Government, get out of my way.'”

Aiona said he will continue the state’s programs on affordable housing and homelessness if elected governor.

Learn about Abercrombie’s Shades of Red, on topics such as the military, the estate tax and same-sex marriage and also about how he stood alone on a controversial vote on aid for the Palestinian government.

Learn about Aiona’s Shades of Blue, on topics such as the Akaka Bill, clean energy and sustainability and healthy lifestyles.

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