- Associated Press - Friday, March 25, 2016

HILO, Hawaii (AP) - A group of business leaders, law enforcement and homeless people came together to find solutions to curb homelessness on the Big Island.

The group met for the second time Wednesday, with Pahoa Officer Davy Kamalii saying he wanted to address the area’s homeless problem because it was a concern for the community, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported (http://bit.ly/1oagi9g ).

But John Hartley, who is a homeless in Pahoa, said he often felt misunderstood and targeted by police.

“I understand the law, I know your view,” Hartley told Kamalii. “I’m not asking for special treatment, but just a little bit of leniency. I’ll be rolling down the road (in my wheelchair), and you guys roll up . sometimes I feel like, what do you guys want me to do? Hide in a corner and curl up and die?”

The number of homeless people on the Big Island is at least 1,300, up from 1,241 last year and 557 in 2013, according to statistics from the Homeless Point in Time Count earlier this year. Across the state, there’s an estimated 15,000 people without shelter, HOPE Services said.

“It’s a really complex issue,” County Prosecuting Attorney Mitch Roth said. “You can’t classify all homeless people (the same).”

He says some of them have serious mental health issues and “we, as a society, have not done a good job addressing those issues.”

Those who attended the gathering Wednesday threw around ideas for mitigating Pahoa’s growing homeless problem, including opening outdoor showers and shelters.

Sarah Williams, who organized the breakfast, emphasized having the community work together for change to take place.

“I’m hoping Pahoa can be a model for the rest of the nation in how to deal with the homeless problem, because I think there’s a way to work together and have everyone be an asset,” she said. “We may not agree on everything, but if we can work together, that’s a beautiful thing.”

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Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, http://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/

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