Sunday, July 19, 2015


No shift in newspaper’s attitude toward the homeless crisis

by Larry Geller

2015-07-19 SA headline

Today’s front-page story with an inscrutable headline is once again about the problems that homeless people are causing businesses. This time, one of the paper’s intrepid reporters has tracked them down to Harding Avenue.

Yet again, the paper treats the people as it would an infestation of vermin.

The city's crackdown on Waikiki's homeless inadvertently spawned a new and rapidly growing problem just up Kapahulu Avenue where two dozen homeless people have set up camp around the Market City Shopping Center, which has since lost "a few customers" while spending thousands of dollars trying to keep the center's bathrooms sanitary.

[Star-Advertiser p. A1, Shifting problems, 7/19/2015]

There’s nothing “inadvertent” about it. The City Council and the Mayor knew exactly what would happen when they enacted their sit-lie bans. It’s about time the newspaper reported this honestly. They may not have been able to pinpoint the exact spot that campers would choose, but they knew exactly and precisely what the results of their actions would be.

Sadly, it appears that at least one of our City Council representatives is also less than honest. Quoted in the article, Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi admits she is still clueless about how to solve Honolulu’s crisis of houselessness:

"I voted for sit-lie in Waikiki to protect the tourism industry," Kobayashi said. "But I said they're just going to move across the Ala Wai to my district, and that's what happened. We knew this would cause more problems. I don't know what to do now."

Cartoon-Ostrich-With-Head-In-SandThe solution, of course, is Housing First, and both the city and state know this. They just won’t fund it and won’t do it. The newspaper, for its part, won’t even talk about it (the last mention that Google finds was on March 22).

The overarching problem is still a crisis of affordable housing on Oahu.

Homelessness in Hawaii is an example of structural violence against low-income citizens

The state and city neglect documented in the news could be characterized as “structural violence,” in other words, as an assault on the most vulnerable in Honolulu. But that’s the stuff of sociology textbooks and doesn’t get into the news. One assault on a state legislator pales in comparison to the deaths caused by the state and city actions and inactions that perpetuate the current housing and homelessness crisis.

This “structural violence” is far more deadly in its consequences, as are other areas of government neglect.

People do suffer avoidable deaths because they are forced to live on the sidewalks just as pedestrians are killed because of inadequate crosswalk design, for example. Cutting mental health services is another act of violence and results in avoidable deaths (see, for a recent example, State agency blamed for 'gross negligence' in the July 12 paper, describing an avoidable death caused by the Dept. of Health’s failure to provide timely mental health evaluations.)

From the Wikipedia:

Structural violence is a term commonly ascribed to Johan Galtung, which he introduced in the article "Violence, Peace, and Peace Research" (1969).

According to Galtung, rather than conveying a physical image, structural violence is an "avoidable impairment of fundamental human needs". As it is avoidable, structural violence is a high cause of premature death and unnecessary disability. Because structural violence affects people differently in various social structures, it is very closely linked to social injustice.

"I hope they find a solution," [Sandra Au] Fong [president of Market City Ltd.]said. "You can't move the homeless because they just go somewhere else."

Tell it to City Hall.

The reporter, for some reason, also mentioned that homeless people at Kakaako play video games and watch DVDs on television sets. Of course they do. And they read books, help their kids with homework, discuss politics, and maybe even read the newspaper.

The paper has been handed a gift in the unfortunate assault on Rep. Brower at the Kakaako homeless encampment. Of course, they mentioned it in today’s story.

The Brower incident was milked once again at the top of today’s editorial. In fact, the lack of action on his assault was the first subject of the editorial, providing a convenient hook to (correctly) chastise the state for its inaction on the broader issues:

The assault on state Rep. Tom Brower has enlightened some people about the realities of the homelessness problem. But even with that light, it has generated very little heat — namely, no fire has been lit beneath the seats of the state’s leadership.

At least, that’s what the lack of real response suggests. Even if the June 29 assault by two homeless youths in Kakaako Makai needs to take its course through the investigation and possible prosecution, reasonable people would expect government leaders meanwhile to be jolted awake by such an episode — on state property, no less

[Star-Advertiser, p. E2, Urgent state action needed at Kakaako encampment, 7/19/2015]

The editorial is better later on as it laments the state’s neglect, mentioning (for example) the number of vacant units in the state’s public housing system that will remain unavailable because funds for repairs have been denied.

The editorial takes state legislators to task not for being out of touch and in denial about the growing issue of poverty and affordable housing, but rather for not doing something to get rid of the Kakaako encampment:

“We have to start dealing with it now,” Luke added. “Everyone donate a property — state, city, feds — then provide a safe area for the homeless.”

What to say?  Rep. Luke, please do start dealing with this now. Better late than never. And why not support an evidence-based solution that moves people into permanent housing rather than talking about a “safe area” for stashing the homeless out of sight?

The editorial covered a lot of territory while again avoiding mentioning Housing First at all – in other words, they've left out the very solution that works elsewhere quite well. (An op-ed by a Hawaii Kai resident today does mention it).

Incidentally, Colin Kippen, the state’s homeless czar, has only ten more working days before he has to clean out his desk. And all that time he never was given a budget to do his job.

So while Rep. Luke may be thinking about something, it’s not clear what Governor Ige’s plans, if any, might be.

What will it take to light a fire under our state and city governments? Here’s an area where the media could beneficially apply pressure, if they were so inclined.

One thing is for sure: when another homeless encampment someplace bothers some businesses, our daily newspaper will be hot on the story.


"You can't move the homeless because they just go somewhere else." Be careful how you try and keep them stationary."

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