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West // West Oahu News
Christina O’Connor

Rep. Cabanilla Introduces New Solution To Homeless Problem

The Senate Committee on Human Services voted last week to recommend passage of a bill that would allow homeless people to sleep in their cars in parking lots after hours. HB 535 HD2 would authorize the establishment of designated city parking lots to be available to homeless people at night.

The bill was first introduced in the House by Rep. Rida Cabanilla, along with colleagues Calvin Say, Linda Ichiyama, Ken Ito, Derek Kawakami and Justin Woodson.

“There are a lot of working poor or working homeless that need a place to park at night,” explained Cabanilla, who represents Ewa Villages, Ewa Beach, Ewa Gentry and Ocean Pointe, and also chairs the Housing Committee. “Or some people have a change in home status, like maybe an abused woman wants to get out of the house … or a young person who got kicked out of the house and needs a place to park at night. Or someone from Waianae, for example, who cannot afford the gas or to ride the bus and just wants to park their car overnight and go to work the next day.”

If passed, the bill will authorize the state Department of Human Services to carry out the program in partnership with homeless assistance programs and the city.

Specific parking lots for the project would be identified by these entities, and Cabanilla said that the lots will need to have portable toilets, and perhaps a shower. The lots would require an overnight monitoring system to prevent alcohol and drug use and disruptive behavior. Those entering the lots also will be screened for signs of intoxication or drug use.

The bill was amended by the Senate last week before progressing to the Senate Committee of Ways and Means.

Concerns raised during hearings on the bill earlier this month included sanitation and sufficient oversight.

While Cabanilla recognized that the proposal is controversial, she asserted that there currently is a lack of options for homeless populations.

“There are these onesize-fits-all solutions, which are not working or addressing a good number of (homeless),” she said, adding that not everyone can afford or wants to enter a shelter or a work program.

“Anything that you are going to do as a solution to homelessness, someone is going to think of something negative to it,” Cabanilla added. “It is not going to be a perfect solution, there is no such thing as a perfect solution. We just hope that it will address the needs of (homeless individuals).”

Cabanilla also has other, similar bills in the works, including one to establish a homeless tent camp, as well as an overnight tent site.

Other bills introduced this session could provide more permanent solutions.

House Bill 1345 (Senate Bill 515) would allot funding for rental assistance programs, among other services that include substance abuse treatment and mental health support programs.

Cabanilla also said that while House Bill 535 could help to relieve the current homelessness situation, providing affordable rentals is the larger goal.

“That is the piece … that we all can agree on,” she said, “but what I am trying to do is what we do in the meantime.”

To view and follow the bill through the process, visit http://capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=HB&billnumber=535&year=2013.

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