Sunday, August 23, 2015


Today’s paper clarifies its management’s stance on homelessness, housing and Kakaako

by Larry Geller

Due to some production glitch, all we received at our doorstep this morning were the sections of the Star-Advertiser that were printed in advance. Perhaps the rest will be delivered later.

The glitch delayed my Sunday morning instant gratification—no David Shapiro column. So instead I turned to the Insight section, and then looked up Shapiro on-line, where they keep him locked up behind a paywall. Sad, but true. My comments on Insight and on Shapiro’s column follow below.

Yet another mention of the Brower assault in today’s Star-Advertiser lead story

Before getting down to my main points, I can’t resist noting my pet annoyance in the paper’s coverage of all things homeless. The front-page story (that you probably didn’t get in paper form due to that glitch) was again about the Kakaako homeless encampment and a plan to create a potential 500-person shelter that would literally warehouse people in a warehouse. And of course, reporter Dan Nakaso just couldn’t resist mentioning yet again the assault on Rep. Tom Brower, even though that had nothing to do with the story.

Interestingly, what’s to say that crime would be less inside a massive human warehouse than outside on the street? The plan would concentrate even more people in one place than does the current encampment—about double the number.

I wonder if Nakaso will follow Brower inside to see what befalls to him next.

Today’s Insight column on the editorial page also (sigh) mentions the Brower incident. It reminds me of how Jon Stewart so often pointed out how each of the Fox News anchors repeated the official line throughout the news day.

The Brower incident is to the Star-Advertiser what Benghazi is to Fox.


Publisher’s Insight: Temporary, not permanent housing needed

I’ve often expressed my impression that the newspaper simply wants to clear the streets, based on the articles they’ve run and their aversion to even mentioning a Housing First solution. Today the publisher of the paper and the general manager of their TV partner confirmed this.

Nothing to smile at

Of course, the op-ed mentioned the assault on Rep. Tom Brower. What a gift he has given this newspaper.

Referring to Gov. Ige’s halt on sweeps because there is no shelter space:

The best idea the [Governor’s] task force could muster seemed to be an unused maintenance shed in the Kakaako encampment that could maybe house 40 people after it is refurbished. That logic seems to suggest that we need permanent housing for the homeless. We don’t. We need temporary housing and we need it quickly without all the bureaucratic handwringing that is taking place.

[Star-Advertiser p. E1, A crisis that demands action, 8/23/2015]

Of course, we do need permanent housing for the homeless! Building condos for the rich and ultra-rich may satisfy the chamber of commerce folks (Star-Advertiser publisher Dennis Francis, co-author of this op-ed, is the immediate past chairman of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii) but the rest of us need to have affordable housing. This includes those who, at the moment, have no housing at all.

There is clearly no hope of reversing the current crisis (which has been with us for a dozen or more years) if shelters are built but truly affordable housing is not.

The Governor’s new team may be naive, but it is hard to believe that journalists do not know better.

Bureaucratic handwringing is par for the course in Hawaii

The writers are correct about the bureaucratic handwringing, even though the issue now is what we can reasonably expect from a Governor’s team that lacks expertise in any of the issues it is confronted with.

Handwringing may be where they are, but there will be action. Eventually. That’s a word I hate to use, but it’s less problematic than something like “in Hawaii time.”

There is an inevitable result in Hawaii when our state government fails to act to protect the rights or health of its citizens—the state is forced to act by the courts.

For example, the federal courts have forced Hawaii to provide special education services and has sued to protect the civil rights of patients at the State Hospital. Those were “crises” in the same sense as we have now with affordable housing—the state knows it must act but doesn’t, letting the problem simply fester. Eventually the crisis is resolved by court order.

What is predictable is that the crisis will end. The only question is how. What has changed recently is that the City has passed ordinances that a court could work with more easily. The City’s attorney warned the Council, but they overrode the Mayor’s veto of their expanded sit-lie ordinance anyway.

Expanded sit-lie prohibitions combined with the City’s illegal enforcement of the stored property ordinances should open a window of opportunity. Eventually.

There could be another path, but it would depend on the state implementing the proven solutions that have worked elsewhere. Where? Places like New Orleans, Louisiana; Plattsburgh, New York; Anchorage, Alaska; Minneapolis, Minnesota; New York City; District of Columbia; Denver, Colorado; San Francisco, California; Atlanta, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; Quincy, Massachusetts; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Salt Lake City, Utah; Seattle, Washington; Los Angeles and Cleveland, Ohio.

The newspaper could be a force for resolution of the bureaucratic handwringing

There is nothing like the power of the press to influence public thinking and to reform public policy. The influence can be good—or bad, if editors go over to the dark side.

Remember the role that the paper played in demonizing the homeless living on the streets in Waikiki. That seemed very much akin to the role of the New York Times and other papers that led the cheerleading for the Iraq war.

The Star-Advertiser has, in effect, promulgated a war against those forced to live on the streets. By repeatedly citing the assault against Tom Brower the paper consciously tries to swing public opinion against those who live in the encampment. De-humanization is a frequent tactic in a war against anyone.

The paper supported and called for laws to sweep the homeless from the streets of Waikiki, showing no empathy with their humanity.

Kakaako has become a refuge of last resort where individuals and families were crushed into overcrowded and desperate circumstances. Conditions in Kakaako were created by the City’s policy and supported by the newspaper. Now the paper wants to exterminate them from that place as well,

David Shapiro on appointment of a political operative to assist City Council chair with… what, exactly?

David Shapiro always calls a spade a spade. Count on it. In today’s paper he did so again, this time correctly nailing a public official for appointing a political operative with no experience in housing or homelessness as a “housing coordinator.”

The appointment of Peter Boylan at the City Council level follows Gov. Ige’s naming of Scott Morishige the state's new homeless czar. At least Morishige has social service experience and has been engaged with the issue. Boylan has none of that..

City Council Chairman Ernie Martin's appointment of Peter Boylan as the Council's housing coordinator is a worrisome sign that Council members intend to continue playing politics with Hawaii's homelessness crisis.

Boylan, who will be paid $84,000, is smart and capable, but his specialty is political public relations, not policy; he's worked since 2009 as a spokesman for politicians such as the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, former U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi.

[Star-Advertiser p.A2, Housing advisor’s strength should be policy, not politics, 8/23/2015]

It’s not that the City Council does not need more expertise in housing issues. If anything, they could use intensive therapy. It’s just that they’re not likely to get it from this appointment.

Shapiro recounts also that Martin recently hired an assistant city clerk amid criticism that the city hasn’t had one in 30 years and doesn’t need one now. The appointment was not made from among the current staff of the city clerk’s office but is a former Martin advisor.

My reaction

When public funds are in short supply (the Council denied Mayor Caldwell’s request for people to work on developing housing in his administration, for example. So with strong rumors that City Council Chair Martin intends to run for Mayor next election, these apparently political appointments should raise the red flag of C o r r u p t i o n.

A city council’s role is to set policy and the mayor’s administration is there to execute it. So denying the mayor a staff to execute housing policy and then letting the Council chair surround himself with what appear to be political advisors more familiar with election campaigns than with the job function they sport on their lapels should be widely challenged.

Isn’t this a time when Hawaii and Honolulu need the most competent leadership possible, given the economic and other challenges that we all face? Is someone who makes these appointments suitable for even greater responsibility?

Political gamesmanship should be named for what it is, as Shapiro does. As voters and taxpayers, we should question the leadership of anyone playing these games with taxpayer money and presumably for their own benefit.


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