- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 27, 2013

HONOLULU — Anna Pililaau lives on some of the priciest beachfront property in Waikiki, overlooking gold-sand Ala Moana Beach and just across the street from Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom.

What’s more, she lives there free of charge. She is one of an estimated 17,000 homeless people who dwell on the islands, rubbing shoulders with tourists and causing no end of angst for local officials trying to scale back the tent cities that dot sites such as Ala Moana Beach Park.

Frustrated by the growing transient population, the Hawaii Legislature took a dramatic step in June, approving the “Return to Home” bill that encourages homeless people to fly back to the mainland by paying for their airline tickets.

According to Ms. Pililaau, 60, the plan was well-received among the wayfaring denizens of Waikiki.

“A lot of the homeless said they would do it,” said Ms. Pililaau, who keeps her belongings in a pair of shopping carts next to a bench. “They came here from the mainland because they thought there were jobs, but they got here and there was nothing.”

Agency balks at program

Whether any Hawaii homeless end up flying back to the Lower 48 remains to be seen. The Hawaii Department of Human Services has opted not to implement the Return to Home program, saying in a statement that the requirements are “costly and administratively burdensome.”

Before placing any homeless person on a plane, the department would be required to help the individual sign a voluntary departure agreement and obtain identification; conduct a background check; provide transportation to the airport; and “ensure proper hygiene.”

“This is not a function that is appropriate for the state of Hawaii to administer,” said Human Services Director Patricia McManaman. “We are not in the business of relocating homeless individuals and families to other states. If an individual wishes to return home, they should reach out to family members or seek support from charitable organizations.”

Executive agencies generally don’t have a choice when it comes to enforcing legislation, but the Return to Home bill says the department “may” coordinate the voluntary homeless relocation program — not “shall.”

Fixing a loophole

“That was our torpedo,” House Vice Speaker John Mizuno told Hawaii Civil Beat. “The word we should’ve used is ‘shall,’ then they couldn’t hide behind an imaginary wall. We’ll go back to the drawing board next year.”

Mr. Mizuno said the measure was designed to address a small but specific portion of the homeless population. He estimated that 100 people per year would take advantage of the pilot program, which launched with an appropriation of $100,000 per year.

Localities have been shuttling homeless people out of town for decades, even centuries. What sets Hawaii’s Return to Home program apart is its candor, said Michael Stoops, director of community organizing for the National Coalition for the Homeless.

“Hawaii’s program is unique in that it became a resolution that went through the state Legislature,” said Mr. Stoops. “In most communities, cities are afraid homeless people will use it as a travel agency and don’t publicize it.”

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