Hawaii leaders consider fixes to homeless problem

HONOLULU — The laid-back tropical paradise seen in postcards and tourists' photos of Hawaii has a less pleasant flipside: homeless people sleeping in tents near Waikiki Beach, men splayed out next to public bathrooms, drug addicts and drunks loitering at an oceanside park.

With President Obama hosting a major Asia-Pacific economic summit in Honolulu in November — one that will draw dozens of heads of state and focus international attention on the tourist mecca — state leaders have begun pressing for solutions to solve a homelessness problem that's as deeply entrenched in Hawaii as nearly anywhere in the country.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie recently announced a hotline to find homeless people who may need help. He also gave details Tuesday on a 90-day plan to increase mental health care services, repair shelters and move the chronically homeless into permanent housing.

Abercrombie simply called it a "happy coincidence" that his plans would be in place in time for the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, stressing that solving the homelessness issue is one his top priorities.

"We still are focused on solving this problem because it's our moral obligation to solve this problem. On the other hand, it's a handy deadline before which we want to have some progress to show our community and the international community," Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz said.

Most of Hawaii's unsheltered live in Honolulu, including those who spend their days and nights on the beaches, parks and streets of Waikiki, where the APEC conference will be held.

Several hundred homeless are estimated to live in the district. At a Waikiki park fronting the ocean one recent morning, several slept in tents on the grass and in the shade under trees. A group of about eight gathered at a bench to attend a Bible study session. One man slept splayed out on the ground next to park bathrooms.

Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle said the city is working hand-in-hand with the state and he hopes the 90-day plan will make a difference before the conference begins.