By Alan McNarie My story this month on Hawai‘i County’s attempts to come to grips with the problems of the homeless struck a little close to home. About 16 years ago, in the wake of a bankruptcy and a divorce, I was house-sitting to save money by while I got back on my feet. But a house-sitting job went sour, and my remaining possessions—about 40 boxes of books, papers, dishes and mementos, and three pieces of heirloom furniture—ended up in an open shed. Fortunately, some friends rented me a shack for $120 a month, and I slowly clawed my way back. But if one more thing had gone wrong, I could well have ended up on the street myself.
Thousands of Big Island families today hover on that same brink, a paycheck or less from disaster. Our safety net, frankly, is overwhelmed. Thousands languish on the waiting list for Section 8 rental assistance. The numbers of folk needing treatment for substance abuse or mental illness exponentially exceeds the beds available in treatment facilities. On an island where it’s far more lucrative to build luxury subdivisions than working-class homes, one social worker told me that 20 percent of the island’s homeless were working poor who simply couldn’t find housing they could afford. Without some re-ordering of society’s priorities, the homeless situation here could easily get much, much worse.
Also in this issue, we begin election coverage with Editor Tiffany Edwards Hunt’s interviews of declared candidates for State House District 4. Since Tiffany is herself running for a District 5 Council seat, I’ll be handling all coverage of County Council races to avoid any conflicts of interest.
Meanwhile, at press time, word had just come that House Bill 1481, the Clean Elections Bill, made it all the way through both houses, only to die when a powerful conference committee chair chose not to schedule it for discussion. In the absence of meaningful election reform, good election coverage is even more essential. In upcoming months, we’ll look not just at the candidates’ statements, but at who’s financed them and, if they’re incumbents, at their committee positions and voting records. We’ll ask hard questions on hard issues such as energy policy, pesticides, GMOs, waste management and, yes, homelessness. We hope you’ll do the same.
— Alan McNarie