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Politics // Mostly Politics
Dan Boylan

Chang’s Bold Plans For Homeless

Honolulu City Councilman Stanley Chang thinks that after years of talking about it, studying it and anguishing over it, we may have finally reached the point where we can do something about the homeless.

“First,” says Chang, “because there’s greater public awareness of the problem. Ninety-six percent of those surveyed in the City and County of Honolulu’s recent Service Efforts and Accomplishments Report called homelessness either a major or moderate problem facing the city, second only to traffic. And members of the City Council, the administration and the police have been inundated with complaints.

“And second, because we’re going to have vastly greater amounts of money to deal with the problem. The city’s getting out of the public housing business, and it’s estimated that the sale of affordable housing projects to private operators will realize the city $61 million. Add $16 million already budgeted to deal with homelessness and we’ll have $77 million available.”

Perhaps. Perhaps not. In a recent Honolulu Star-Advertiser article, reporter Allison Schaefers found an administration official questioning Chang’s claim of $77 million for the homeless, noting that $26 million of the $61 million expected from sale already has been earmarked for retirees’ health care.

“That’s counterintuitive,” says Chang. “Money received from the sale of affordable housing should be used to deal with the problem of homelessness. When we pass legislation that moves the homeless off the streets, the homeless must have some place to go.”

According to Chang, the shelters available to the homeless have proven inadequate. They have rules against drugs and alcohol. They prohibit the homeless from bringing their pets.

“I know. We want to shake our fist at the sky: What right do the homeless have to use drugs or alcohol or keep pets? But a place to go with prohibitions isn’t a place where many of the homeless can go.”

So the homeless are sleeping in Waikiki, where police report them as top-ping even traffic on tourists’ lists of complaints. They’re showing up in Diamond Head and Hawaii Kai, deep in Chang’s East Honolulu 4th Council District and under freeways wherever those cement shelters can be found.

“The problem is much, much worse than it’s ever been,” says Chang. “Traffic and homelessness both receive 96 percent rating as city problem; traffic just noses out homelessness at the top. We’re spending $5.5 billion on rail to help alleviate the traffic problem. Why can’t we spend $77 million on homelessness?”

Chang wants to start by investing in simple one-bedroom apartment housing for singles, and in multiple “puuhonua,” or safe zones, that would provide shelter, security and social services. The latter might be tent cities.

Chang has received criticism for his safe zones.

“My response is don’t shoot down a dumb idea unless you’ve got an alternative,” he says. “What’s your alternative? Further disappointment? We need a plan of action, not just more talk about the problem of homelessness. The residents and businesses of Waikiki are tired of talk and incremental solutions. The scale of the problem demands that we do something serious.”

During the 2012 election campaign, the mayoral candidates all spoke about how intractable the problem of homelessness had become. Whenever asked, Kirk Caldwell, the eventual winner, expressed his support for safe zones.

Councilman Chang may have an ally in the ewamakai corner office on Honolulu Hale’s third floor.

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