- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 12, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii is looking for solutions to its homelessness crisis, and lawmakers are considering a program to help connect homeless people with day jobs.

They’re modeling the three-year program after a similar approach in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Tucson, Arizona. Lunch and a ride to a shelter at the end of the work day also would be provided to participants, according to a bill passed by the state Senate on Tuesday.

“With the rate of growth in our homeless population, it really makes sense to get folks an additional opportunity and get them connected with service providers in the city and state,” said Democratic state Rep. Chris Lee, who introduced the bill.

Lee decided to introduce the bill after visiting New Mexico and witnessing the program.

“Other places have had great success with roadside cleanup, taking care of graffiti, cleaning up homeless encampments, all kinds of things,” Lee said. “There’s no shortage of that kind of work here in Hawaii, and in particular in Honolulu.”

Many homeless people don’t have internet access or cars, so the program could help them surmount those challenges, said The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii in testimony supporting the bill. The program would begin on the island of Oahu, and it would be run by the City and County of Honolulu.

Hawaii has the highest rate of homelessness per capita in the nation. According to the latest count, there were 7,620 homeless people statewide, with about 4,900 living on Oahu, and half of them were unsheltered.

“We’ve only seen it get worse over time, and I’m glad were talking about different solutions,” said Republican Rep. Beth Fukumoto-Chang, who co-introduced the bill. “It’s a creative way to address the problem, and obviously it’s not going to take care of everything, but it will take care of a small piece.”

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