- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii lawmakers killed a bill Tuesday that would have funded a program to fly homeless people back to the mainland, saying some people may view it as an opportunity for a tropical vacation.

The program, which currently isn’t funded, aimed to send homeless people who aren’t from Hawaii back to the states where they have support systems, and was supported by the state’s largest provider of homeless shelter services.

But Rep. Dee Morikawa, Chairwoman of the House Human Services Committee, stopped the bill from advancing, saying she wants to be very careful with how the state spends its limited money.

“It’s like a vacation maybe for some people to come here and know that they can fly home because Hawaii will pay for it, and I’m worried about that,” Morikawa said.

A privately funded program run by the nonprofit Institute for Human Services flew 133 homeless people from Waikiki to other states last year, with a budget of around $28,000, said Kimo Carvalho, spokesman for the organization. But the funding came mostly came from donations, and there’s no dedicated funding to continue the program on Oahu this year, he said. The organization only has funds this year to fly homeless people off Maui, he added.

The organization received more than 300 inquiries from homeless people living outside Waikiki last year, and there’s statewide demand for the program, Carvalho said.

Those statistics didn’t convince the Department of Human Services, which would have run the program outlined in the bill.

“There is no guarantee that folks who are helped to return to their home states won’t ever come back,” said Lori Tsuhako, homeless programs administrator for the department, adding that people could come to Hawaii, exhaust their resources and then request a return flight home.

“There’s no way to vet that intention,” she said.

Carvalho told lawmakers his staff kept in touch with nearly all of the people who used the program, and he’s not aware of anyone who’s returned.

“People already are coming to Hawaii,” Carvalho said. “Our recent arrival stats go up every year. That’s a reality in our state.”

Hawaii has the highest rate of homelessness per-capita in the nation

Democratic Rep. John Mizuno, who introduced the bill, said Hawaii was the first in the nation to approve such a program in 2013, but the program was never funded.

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