The Civil Beat website has published some interesting stories on homelessness, and it can be a good source of information. But today’s editorial, entitled “Don’t Like the Homeless in Our Backyards? Then Fix the Problem,” comes across as so much naive claptrap, more intent on virtue-signalling to a narrow audience of like-minded wishful thinkers than really dealing with anything of substance.
Yes, the editorial concedes, some homeless people do shit in doorways and cause other unpleasantness that beleaguered shopkeepers are forced to deal with. And yes, the line of people who receive free meals each day from the nonprofit River of Life mission on Pauahi Street in Chinatown has gotten awful long. But until there’s a utopian solution that provides free or affordable housing to anyone who needs it and somehow solves all their other problems, business owners and residents who are confronted by outrageous behavior on a daily basis are just going to have to suck it up, the editorial seems to say.
The editorial even took this low approach: “For years now, we’ve heard the same self-serving refrain from residents and business owners alike: ‘Not in my backyard!’ We can no longer afford to accommodate the NIMBYs.”
That’s such ridiculous, pompous, bullshit. And talk about self-serving. Civil Beat sure seems to be more interested in posturing for agreeable friends and potential subscribers and donors — and probably lots of ideological old friends on the mainland as well — than really solving problems in Honolulu.
“NIMBYs” have every right in the world to be concerned about the operation and management of homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and the like — and conditions in the public spaces that surround them — as well as poor enforcement of laws against taking over parks and sidewalks and turning them into Third World shit holes.
Continuously expanding the originally modest effort of River of Life mission to feed hungry people in Chinatown, to the point where so many now line up on Pauahi Street three times a day — then wander back to Aala Park, River Street, College Walk, Hotel Street, Fort Street Mall, Sun Yat-sen Memorial Park, Kamamalu Playground, Kamalii Park, Smith-Beretania Park, Union Mall, the Iolani Palace grounds, the public library, or nearby housing projects, or just plop back down on Pauahi Street — may be well-intended, but that is clearly having an effect on the surrounding neighborhood. Not everyone agrees with that effect, and they shouldn’t.
Civil Beat quotes River of Life’s Bob Merchant as follows: “This isn’t ‘Field of Dreams,’” he said. “We didn’t build it and they came. They were here already.” Civil Beat then endorses that philosophy without question.
That’s a bunch of simplistic nonsense, of course. Yes, there have always been homeless people in Chinatown. But no, the hundreds who now line up every day outside River of Life were not all there before River of Life was established. They have been attracted there in part because free meals with no strings attached have made it easy for them to subsist in the community without really trying, and this includes subsisting in ways that are unquestionably unhealthy to themselves and the surrounding community.
Let’s face it. Many of Chinatown’s derelicts are hard-core drug addicts, and their presence attracts drug dealers who cater to their needs and other very unsavory elements. Quite a few are literally out of their minds.
Yes, it’s only humane to feed people who are truly hungry and helpless, especially the elderly, disabled, or mentally ill. And, hopefully, to coax them into drug abuse and mental health treatment and other services if they are needed. But it’s also humane — to everyone — to make it clear that certain behaviors will not be tolerated and that living in squalor, abusing drugs in public, shitting all over the place, and living on endless handouts while victimizing an entire community is not an acceptable lifestyle, and certainly not one that should be subsidized or encouraged, even if indirectly and inadvertently.
There’s no comparable facility, or severe homelessness problem, along Waialae Avenue in Kaimuki, where Civil Beat’s tony offices are located, and I doubt the editors are really in any hurry for Chinatown to share its abundance of downtrodden with Kaimuki, which would not stand for it.
“NIMBYs,” including those in Chinatown, have every right to be concerned about service facilities, especially since government has done such a poor job managing the conditions they create and foster in Kakaako, Iwilei, and other places, where shelters that were established years ago have guaranteed the presence of permanent homeless populations, and lots of hangers-on, in those neighborhoods ever since.
Here’s Civil Beat’s “solution,” all wrapped up in one simplistic paragraph: “Honolulu, we already know, is woefully behind on its obligations to provide affordable housing and shelter space. Until we make a concerted effort to ensure that more of our citizens have a safe place to live, we shouldn’t criminalize them for being on the street, and we most definitely shouldn’t deny them easy access to food.”
That may sound nice to some, but it really just makes assumptions, shifts blame, and avoids any discussion of unpleasant topics. For one, does Honolulu really have “obligations to provide affordable housing and shelter space” to anyone and everyone who concedes to accept it? I would say, emphatically, “NO.”
If anyone has such “obligations,” it is the state and federal governments. Here’s why: The state operates the massive Hawaii Public Housing Authority, which is heavily subsidized by the federal government, with whose rules and regulations the state is required to conform. The state also operates the giant Department of Health and Department of Human Services bureaucracies with their myriad services and contracts with service providers.
And quite a few of Honolulu’s homeless are recent transplants from Micronesia and the mainland United States. That is, they can move to Honolulu by virtue of policies over which Honolulu has absolutely no control, such as the federally negotiated Compact of Free Association, or COFA. No, “COFA migrants” are not the majority of this island’s homeless. But yes, they have a disproportionate presence in some key areas, and make a big impact on services. Ironically, one of Civil Beat’s own contributors acknowledged that today in an opinion article, as follows:
“One of the most visible crisis to hit us in recent years is the problem of the homeless. Certainly, the issue has been around for a very long time, but it seems to have intensified in recent years between the general economic malaise that has lingered since the 2008 economic meltdown and the influx of Compact of Free Association migrants.”
I assure you that COFA migrants have had a big impact on our public schools. And that’s not blaming them, or labeling them, or accusing them of being bad people or anything else. It’s stating the obvious.
The opinion article gently calls for a coordinated approach to solving homelessness, noting that local government has not historically been too good at that. That’s putting it mildly.
The point I’m making is not that Micronesian and mainland U.S. migrants are the majority living on the street in Chinatown.
The point is that attacking “NIMBYs” for being fed up with bullshit that has been totally out of control for too long, and pinning magic solutions all on the city of Honolulu, is just as destructive as having no compassion at all for the homeless.
An effective and comprehensive approach to addressing homelessness includes consistent enforcement of reasonable standards of human conduct in public spaces. That’s really Honolulu’s “obligation” to everyone. The city can assist and facilitate larger efforts, but the state and federal governments need to do a hell of a lot more.
And reasonable discussions about the size, scope, and location of service facilities and the management of the conditions they create in surrounding neighborhoods should not be forced off the table by self-righteous pontificators.
One group of well-meaning people who do good work in a limited context should not be allowed to decide the character of a neighborhood unchallenged, especially when they are in no position to control the side-effect conditions that their efforts create and perpetuate.