Thursday, January 05, 2012


Homeless czar resigns amid accusations of sexual misconduct, but it doesn’t matter much, really

by Larry Geller

I heard about the resignation of Marc Alexander as the Governor’s homeless czar and was going to post this short comment when a tweet came in:

Homeless Czar resigns

Click the tweet or this link to read the Civil Beat story. Click now if you haven’t yet heard the news.

The Civil Beat article doesn’t change my short comments. All I knew was that Alexander resigned for personal reasons.

The resignation is an opportunity to look back briefly at the Governor’s 90-day plan that was widely viewed as an attempt to move homeless citizens away from the sight of APEC 2011 visitors.

As a plan, it wasn’t a plan. Perhaps there were internal documents that would qualify, but anything that can be easily translated into PowerPoint bullet points isn’t a plan—it may be a list of goals and objectives.  Too often in Hawaii these outlines are labeled a “plan.”

Most any new project of this scope will require new resources. For example, a budget and some staff. The 90-day plan lacked significant new resources and Alexander had only one assistant, as I understood it. I don’t know if he was given much more help.

Instead of providing new resources to the many hard-working and under-funded agencies working with those in the parks, and instead of laying on new shelter, job or housing opportunities sufficient to make a difference, the state and city actually reduced services to the homeless, most visibly by cutting back on mental health services while branding many of the homeless as suffering from mental illness. Go figure.

Users of the clubhouses were turned away. I have anecdotal reports that they were turned away verbally, so that there is no paper trail. When a person is told they can no longer participate in the program because (say) their insurance is not right, they go away and may never return. Perhaps the clubhouse was assisting them in staying on their meds, or providing nutritious food for those who have difficulty caring for themselves. On Molokai, the clubhouse is about the only source of mental health service most consumers had. You may recall that under former governor Linda Lingle the Department of Health tried to shut down the Molokai Clubhouse entirely. They were stopped mainly by force of blogging.

Instead of giving, the essence of the 90-day plan was to take away from this vulnerable population. The first controversy was the directive not to feed anyone in the park. Then belongings were taken away during the sweeps. Finally, the city has passed a law allowing them to take away anything left on a public sidewalk, a law that has been strictly created to harm the homeless more efficiently. Arguments about the need to keep parks and sidewalks available to the public are irrelevant to the effect of these takings—they harm, not help the target population.

Meanwhile, talk of affordable housing remains a fiction. Other states and municipalities have had “10-year plans” in place for some time, and housing-first as a best-practice is widely recognized. Yet we just talk and fail to satisfy the need.

No social problem can be remedied by czars and coordinating committees. Resources must be included in plans, personnel assigned to carry out the duties, and meaningful measurements and adjustments put in place.

So taking the opportunity of Marc Alexander’s resignation, I think we can do better. It isn’t his fault. He never had the resources available to him to make a dent in the problem, and the state and city really don’t care to work on it. There is a lack of empathy that negates the Aloha in the Aloha State.

But then, that is nothing new.


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