Friday, October 10, 2014
Poor public administration is nothing new for Hawaii
“Life in Hawaii has become tremendously more difficult,”
Mazer says. “The stress of no affordable housing, out-of-control
development, increasingly bad commutes and a weak education
system all bear themselves out in homes across the Islands and affect
the kids. We're looking at a changing and declining way of life, not
just an insufficient system.”—former DOH Child and Adult Mental Health Division director Neal Mazer, quoted in Criminal Neglect (Honolulu Weekly, 4/28/1993
All this represents a failure of public administration that continues today.—me
by Larry Geller
Let’s see… Neal Mazer said that in 1993, or 21 years ago.
Today, there’s still a dearth of affordable housing.
Development is still out of control.
Commutes are so bad that Honolulu now ranks among the worst nationally.
Our educational system is still weak.
That the same statement can be made 21 years later is disturbing.
The pull-quote was snipped from an article describing Hawaii’s refusal to provide special education services to its school children. It was published before the Felix lawsuit, and suggested that some kind of legal action was likely, either via the Department of Justice or a local suit that would force the state to come into compliance with the law. Twenty-one years later, there is talk among parents that perhaps another “Felix” lawsuit would be timely, because in its heart, the Department of Education still resists having to provide federally-mandated services to many of the children.
Coming back to the present time, the problems cited by Mazer are not only still with us, but they have taken their toll. The streets are now home to thousands of individuals and families who could not make ends meet—and who might not be there had we begun to work on the affordable housing issue 21 years ago.
Many of the street houseless also have mental health issues. At least some of those used to have housing and were maintained with the help of Department of Health services which were then cut. Without supports, they ended up on the street, and many died. There is sworn testimony given to the Legislature in 2010 that fingers DOH cuts as likely responsible for a 36% increase in deaths among adult mental health consumers due to all causes one year over another. The video at the link describes some of the service cuts.
There is still no affordable housing, and Housing First has yet to happen. The city thinks it can erase its problem by criminalizing homelessness and sweeping people onto a hot asphalt tented camp on remote Sand Island. That hasn’t worked elsewhere and won’t work here.
While the clock can’t be set back 21 years, we can take a lesson from those dark days. Special ed services were in bad shape in large part because the Legislature refused to fund them. Similarly, our roads (state and city) fell into disrepair due to lack of funds. I hear a broken record playing: both DOE and UH buildings and facilities have a huge repair backlog because money was not spent when needed. And of course, the increasing number of homeless people on the streets is due to neglect, continuing even today, to allocate sufficient funds to resolve the problem.
Another thing that doesn’t change is that citizens are kept in the dark about the ongoing neglect until something builds to a crisis and pops out on a front page. That’s how we found out about the repair backlogs—they became huge and newsworthy.
That’s how we also learned about the yearly record number of senior traffic deaths. Sadly, though the carnage continues, it’s no longer newsworthy and so nothing is ever done about it.
Everyone knows traffic in Honolulu is bad, but it became news only when we hit the record books.
The number of homeless on the streets increased year after year, and nothing was done, but it finally broke into the news and so we have a “crisis.”
Native Hawaiians continue to die while on the waiting list for Hawaiian Homeland tracts that are rightfully theirs. This issue has persisted at least since statehood, and the state continues to contest the Kalima lawsuit, filed in 1999, that would resolve some damage claims against the state for its breach of trust. Once again, instead of doing the right thing, the state seems to be pushing the costs to fix the problem off onto future generations.
All this represents a failure of public administration that continues today. It is also a huge waste of taxpayer money to fail to provide services in a timely way or to perform repairs as needed. All of this neglect is by choice, and that’s important to understand. And as we learned from financing the costs of the Felix lawsuit that dragged Hawaii into compliance with federal law, the belated fix is far more costly than simply doing what is right in the first place.
Why don’t we change? Why not budget for repairs as a condition of funding new buildings at UH, as one example? No guaranteed repair funds, no buildings. Simple (maybe). Why not budget for enough Housing First to substantially assist houseless families, instead of a minimal amount that may not be effective?
There’s a new governor coming in before year-end. Perhaps we can get some sense of which of the candidates, if any, will work to reverse these patterns of neglect for the benefit of all of us.