Public housing not only solution to homelessness

By Alicia D. Partridge.

Think Tech conference

Homelessness costs the State of Hawaii millions of dollars annually, yet advocates argue affordable public housing isn’t the answer. Rann Watumull, board president for the River of Life Mission, spoke at the ThinkTech Talk Aug. 25 to discuss challenges and strategies to improve Hawaii’s economy in its relation to homelessness.

Homelessness costs the state millions of dollars annually. According to data collected from the Homeless Management Information System database for 2005-2006, Hawaii had over 15,000 homeless people being served by various support programs.

Watumull and the mission advocated for the homeless. River of Life Mission’s statement says it’s “a faith-based organization whose purpose is to restore broken lives through rescue, rehabilitation, and reintegration services.”

“To us, (River of Life Mission), the homeless are not a group, rather people with names, backgrounds and stories,” Watumull said in a panel discussion.

He described three categories of homeless as defined by the director of social work at the mission. There are the have-nots who just need a hand and graciously accept help, the can-nots who have a type of illness whether mental, physical or drug related and the will-nots who choose it as a lifestyle.

“These people have addictions and addictive behaviors; you can’t just pluck them in housing, they will destroy it,” Watumull said in an interview. “The root cause will come out and not fix the problem.”

According to Watumull, if a person is chosen for public housing, one-third of the person’s income is taken as rent. However, if he or she has no income it’s a mere $5 per year.

Contrary to popular belief, 17 to 42 percent of Hawaii’s homeless are employed full-time, Hawaii HOME (Homeless Outreach & Medical Education) Project reports.
“The reason [the problem of homelessness] is getting worse is the drugs nowadays,” Watumull said in an interview. “They are getting more powerful and getting people hooked really bad, really fast.”

Hawaii launched a statewide meth prevention program in June 2009 to address this growing issue. Hawaii currently ranks #5 for meth use for those 12 and older, the most recent Hawaii Youth Risk Behavior Survey found. Meth costs Hawaii an estimated $500 million each year in crime, lost productivity, treatment, healthcare, and foster care services.

Additionally, the Hawaii Policy Academy on Chronic Homelessness published a strategy to end homelessness by 2014. The plan sets guided principles, specific goals and an action plan to achieve this goal.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann held a forum in June covering the complexities, challenges and services available to address homelessness on Oahu.

“Homelessness is a difficult issue that affects all of us, and we must continue to work together to address it,” Hannemann said in the press release for the forum in June.

Recovery services are necessary for these people to change their attitudes and behaviors about this way of life, Watumull explained. These services are available at many shelters and outreach programs throughout the state.

“My point is: don’t allow people to stay on the streets. Force them into shelters, so people either realize, ‘I change or go to jail,’” Watumull said.

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Rann Watumull speaks on homelessness VIDEO