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Homelessness Legislation Being Considered

Wayne Yoshioka

A number of bills addressing homelessness are being considered by the Hawai’i legislature. HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports. 

A bill to establish safe zones for homeless campers, complete with hygiene facilities and social services, does not have the support of the administration.  Scott Morishige is the governor’s coordinator on homelessness.

Credit Wayne Yoshioka
Scott Morishige, the Governor's Coordinator on Homelessness

“When we look at the practical experience in Honolulu at Aala Park in the early ‘90s, the experience of cities such as Seattle or Portland on the West Coast, their concern about tent cities or safe zones is that they do nothing to get people out of the situation of homelessness.”

If approved, safe zones would allow for the consumption of alcohol and animal companions.  Another bill proposes the establishment of the Pu’uhonua Homeless Villages program, permanent rental housing built on under-utilized state land in Wai’anae, Sand Island and Campbell Industrial Park. 

Credit Wayne Yoshioka
Cynthia Rezentes, National Environmental Justice Advisory Council

Cynthia Rezentes, a member of the Environmental Justice Advisory Council, says the proposed locations are isolated and place the homeless at risk.

“I look at the locations that are recommended in this bill and I have major issues.  First off, they’re all in the tsunami inundation zone area.  Putting people in tsunami inundation zones and saying you can live there for the rest of your life, is really a stretch.”

Another measure would require the Department of Human Services to expand supportive housing services through Medicaid managed care plans.  Queen’s Medical Center executive vice president, Paula Yoshioka, says the center’s emergency department or ED … provides 10 million dollars in uncompensated or non-reimbursed care for the homeless annually.

Credit Wayne Yoshioka
Queen's Medical Center executive vice president, Paula Yoshioka

“Queens sees 64 percent of all the homeless on O’ahu.  In 2015, we had 13-thousand visits in our ED.  Seventy percent of those who come to our ED are super users, meaning, they come to the ED three or more times a week and they have three or more admissions per month.  Thirty percent are hyper-users.  These folks have 10-plus ED visits per month and three admissions per month.

The Medicaid measure was deferred.  All other bills advanced. Wayne Yoshioka, HPR News.

Wayne Yoshioka
Wayne Yoshioka is an award-winning journalist who has worked in television, print and radio in Hawaiʻi. He also has been on both sides of politics as a state departmental appointee and political/government reporter. He covered Hurricane Iwa (1982) as a TV reporter; was the State Department of Defense/Civil Defense spokesperson for Hurricane Iniki (1992); and, commanded a public affairs detachment in Afghanistan (2006). He has a master's degree in Communication from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and is a decorated combat veteran (Legion of Merit, Bronze Star and 22 other commendation/service medals). He resides in Honolulu.
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