Monday, March 2, 2009

Hawaii considers homeless express

HONOLULU -- No money? Just go home, already.

That’s the message Hawaii will be sending to some of the state’s thousands of homeless -- at least the ones who want to leave.

In what is hoped to be a more loving version of the old “bum express” of the Mainland, the state is considering giving plane tickets to those who’ve found themselves on the street because of the high cost of living and low prospect for jobs in the Aloha State.

HB 1187, the “return-to-home” program, would give out-of-state homeless people a one-way flight back to friends, relatives or other support groups. It’s estimated that each homeless person cost Hawaii taxpayers $30,000 to $35,000, while a plane ticket can be had for $400 or less.

“This isn’t meant to solve the entire homeless problem in the state of Hawaii, only the specific population that came to Hawaii with dreams of hula girls serving mai tais on the beach and has then encountered the harsh reality of homelessness in Hawaii,” said homeless advocate Netra Halperin in testimony to the House Finance Committee today.

Others urge caution.

“While we acknowledge the good intent of this bill, we caution that it may have the unintended effect of increasing the number o homeless persons entering Hawaii, once it is known that a person who gets here on their own will be able to get transportation back home provided by the state,” said Chad Taniguchi of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority. “We are concerned that some may misuse this program to take a free vacation to Hawaii.”

The bill is making steady progress through the Legislature, with only members of the greatly outnumbered Minority Caucus voting no.

The University of Hawaii late last year released its “Homeless Service Utilization Report,” a study that attempts to get a handle on the breadth of the homelessness problem on the islands and how best to address it.