Friday, March 18, 2011

Rep. Cabanilla: State should help homeless with housing and services, not additional studies

Commentary from Representative Rida Cabanilla, Chair of the House Committee on Housing:

I would like to take this opportunity to share my purview as the Chair of the Committee on Housing, specifically on the issue of homelessness.

Residents of Hawai`i may have been done a disservice in the government’s attempts in resolving homelessness in Hawai`i. Major complaints from community groups revolve around the excessive studies and reports on the situation of homelessness in Hawai`i resulting in further studies and reports and minimal action. While these studies have been vital in educating ourselves so that we may responsibly, efficiently, and effectively expend public funds, we have become caught in a cycle of conducting more studies and reports, expending more public resources in expanding government, in essence resulting in ourselves attempting to study the problem away. This must stop. We must break away from this cycle and begin effectuating real significant changes concerning homelessness.

Thus it is in my purview as the Chair of the Committee on Housing that all monies appropriated directly benefits our people of Hawai`i by rapidly re-housing our homeless individuals. Through the myriad of studies, taskforces, coalitions, and other such similar endeavors, we know about the current homeless situation in Hawai`i as well as best practices and successes from other areas in the nation and the world. Therefore it would be a misuse of funds to replicate studies that have already been done and to re-educate ourselves on things we already know. We know that training and educating is more effective after stabilization, which is a major concept of the Housing First program. Therefore, what is truly needed is action, not studies or taskforces or other such programs. All monies appropriated should be used to rapidly re-house our homeless community. This is my top priority as well as it should be a priority for departments throughout government. Homelessness is an issue concerning human rights. Homelessness is an issue concerning our communities’ health, safety, and finances. Homelessness is an issue of paramount concern for the individuals and families affected, the surrounding neighborhoods and communities, as well as the entire State of Hawai`i.

The United States has long held itself as being exceptional—a champion, a pioneer, and the defender of human rights. Hawai`i, with all our aloha, purports similar characteristics with our strong commitment to native Hawaiian values in pursuing what is pono. International Human Rights Law has evolved from the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights to consisting of nine core treaties and various optional protocols, declarations, principles, guidelines, standard rules, and recommendations. Under these laws, it is a right of each and every individual to have access to the basic necessities to live, including shelter. If we are to hold true to our own espoused values, we must act to the best of our abilities to satisfy the commitments and obligations as noted under the laws of human rights.

The homeless community and the community at large are continually ill served. For one reason or another, members of the homeless community continue to cohabitate in public areas. Lacking adequate facilities, extremely unsanitary conditions permeate throughout the State. Not only is the community assailed with the overwhelming stench, but worse is that homeless individuals are forced to live in it due to lack of "agreeable options". The health of the individuals in the immediate areas are seriously jeopardized. Increasingly punitive measures and treating the homeless as opala do not work and does not help address this situation. Initiatives such as creating safe havens and housing first do work and it alleviates the serious health risks involved.

Furthermore, due to the extreme vulnerability of the members of the homeless community, homeless individuals are commonly preyed upon and are victims of violence. Sometimes this violence spills over into the neighboring community. Whether one has a home or not, being subjected to such acts of violence is intolerable. Action needs to be taken. Once again, creating safe havens and implementing the housing first program will alleviate these security and safety concerns.

Many hidden costs to homelessness exist. There are exhorbent societal costs as well as the costs the State must cover in hospital bills and incarceration. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association the housing first program in Seattle at 1811 Eastlake saved taxpayers more than $4 million dollars in cost avoidance. Before instituting the program, the median costs per person who was chronically homeless was $4066 per month. 6 months after the implementation of the housing first program, the median costs per person who benefited from this program dramatically dropped to $1492 per month. After 12 months, the median costs per person further dropped to $958 per month.

The human rights of the people of Hawai`i is being trampled and ignored. The health and safety of the concerned individuals as well as the community at large are threatened. The finances of the State are continuing to be misspent. We have received a myriad of studies and reports concerning the homeless situation in Hawai`i as well as best practices and successes from other areas. I believe we are well-equipped with sufficient mana`o to tackle this issue. Therefore, it is in my purview as the Chair of the Committee on Housing that all bills actively address the situation on hand, that all monies appropriated go directly to servicing the homeless community and community at large rather than increasing the size and bureaucracy of government. Specifically, all monies appropriated should be used to directly house homeless individuals wherein after the rapid re-housing of the homeless can we begin training and educating. This approach will address all the aforementioned aspects. We will affect change and do good by all our peoples of Hawai`i.

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