Editorial — Homelessness Is Close To Home

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

4 replies
  1. Errol
    Errol says:

    Alan McNarie….Thank you for expressing your compassion for the homeless and not writing them off. Aloha

  2. Richard Ha
    Richard Ha says:

    What changed? Oil prices quadrupled in the last ten years. Those who could, passed on the cost. Rising electricity costs act like a giant regressive tax. The folks on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder are hurt most. these are the folks like the kupuna on fixed income, single mom’s, the working homeless. The Big Islands electricity rate has been 25% higher than Oahu’s for as long as anyone can remember. One of the Trib’s reporters wrote about the social problems at the Puna schools. This is not surprising. Wpthe Pahoa school complex at 89% has the highest percent of students in the WHOLE state who participate in the free lunch program, Thanks for writing this Alan. We all know it, what are we going to do about it? The Big Island Community Coalition fights for lowest cost electricity. Join us at Big Island Community Coalition.com. We can make a difference.

  3. Hazen
    Hazen says:

    Alan, what committee chair killed this? Was it Hee or Solomon? They seem to both be doing a lot of that recently.

  4. tia
    tia says:

    In these tough times, why can’t the guberment just leave people alone? Why harass homeless people camping? There should be free camp grounds for the homeless.

    Richard, still selling your GMO wares? Still?

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