Is Mayor Caldwell exploiting the homeless for election publicity?

I’m glad Honolulu is finally making some progress in getting more homeless people into shelters and real housing.

And I’m glad Uncle Clay, the longtime Waikiki beach boy who became homeless and has since become something of a “poster child” for the city’s efforts, is one of the people who’s been moved off the street.

But I’m also feeling more and more disturbed by Caldwell’s use of the homeless as reelection advertising props, and more convinced that some questions need to be asked.

Uncle Clay was prominently featured in lots of news segments about the Hale Mauliola shelter on Sand Island and is now appearing in some high-profile television advertisements for Caldwell’s reelection campaign, praising the mayor specifically, and not the shelter or its staff, for getting him into housing.  (The ad is the last one featured in the link)

At the very least, there’s lots of potential for coercion in that equation.

And with just two weeks to go before the November 8 election, Caldwell called the news people out to Sand Island to proclaim Hale Mauliola a big success.

The newspaper reported that officials claim 105 shelter guests have “found permanent housing elsewhere” since the shelter was opened almost one year ago on a “temporary” basis that’s now starting to look very permanent.

But one of the TV stations took things a step further and reported that 40 percent of those 105 guests “either moved in with a family member, were placed into transitional shelters or went into drug treatment centers.”  Those options sound better than a temporary shelter, but they sure don’t sound like “permanent housing.”

And it’s not clear from either of these accounts whether any other housing that homeless people were placed in is housing that was actually added to the housing market, as opposed to housing that already existed.  It sure sounds like the latter, and that the city gave Hale Mauliola guests preferences in a game of musical chairs.

That’s all fine and dandy for the “winners,” but it also means that for every winner, others competing for that same housing were left out when the music stopped.  And more than a few were probably left homeless.

Caldwell also didn’t announce how many guests simply left Hale Mauliola to go back to the streets or were kicked out for breaking rules, but there have been quite a few.

So it’s a little hard to judge how successful all this has really been.  I’m really not ready to clap too loud, especially not two weeks before a hotly contested election.

By the way, Caldwell’s opponent, Charles Djou, hasn’t said much of anything about homelessness so I’m sure not clapping for him either.

Caldwell hasn’t given any updates about the new “state of the art” homeless facility that’s supposed to open in Iwilei some day, which he announced four months ago while refusing to provide even a target date for an actual opening.

And nobody seems to be asking him about it.

Maybe Caldwell will make another big announcement right before election day.


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