HONOLULU (KHON2) — The state said homelessness continues to be one of Hawaii’s most challenging social problems. As resources for human services continue to be limited, a push at the Legislature aims to return out-of-state houseless individuals back to their homes.
State Rep. John Mizuno is calling it the “return to home” pilot program. The bill requires the State Department of Human Services to create a three year pilot program to help out-of-state houseless individuals return to their home state.
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“We’d like to fly them back to their home state to be with their family or relatives where they can slowly get back on their feet,” said Rep. John Mizuno, (D) Kamehameha Heights, Kalihi Valley, Portions of Kalihi.
The bill states that eligible houseless individuals only qualify for the program if their participation is completely voluntary. They must have clearance from the court if they’re on probation or waiting for sentencing, and they must lack financial resources.
While the Department of Human Services appreciates the intent of the bill, it has some reservations.
“We have some concern that establishing a formal state funded program may have the unintended consequence of incentivising people to come to Hawaii with an expectation of a return ticket back to their point of origin,” said Scott Morishige, Department of Human Services.
Since 2014, the Hawaii Tourism and Lodging Authority has provided funds for a similar project with its non-profit partners. HTLA said, the proof is in the numbers.
“There was a total of 744 and only 16 people returned which is less than two percent,” said Mufi Hannemann, Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association President and CEO. “That’s less than two percent that came back.”
Mizuno added that there are safeguards in place. The bill states that a participant or their family will have to pay for half of the airfare. Their family must be willing to accept them upon their return, and they must sign an agreement with the state not to use the program more than once.
Service providers like the Institute for Human Services said they see a countless amount of houseless individuals from the mainland and a measure like this can help save local resources for local houseless individuals.
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“They end up on our rolls for general assistance or for our healthcare, and I can’t tell you how many people come from the emergency room that just arrived from out of state to our shelters,” said Connie Mitchell, The Institute for Human Services Executive Director.
The bill passed Tuesday, Feb. 7 with amendments and will move to its next committee.