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Hawaii Tourism Association suggests a new and different response for the homeless problem in the State


HiTA offers a constructive approach to deal with Hawaii homeless issues

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By Linda Hohnholz, eTN | Jul 27, 2011

Just this past Saturday night, I walked along Kalakaua Avenue close to the Hyatt Regency, and came across a young man sleeping on the sidewalk on his mattress made of cardboard, with a sign: "Veteran – will work for food." I saw several international tourists taking pictures of him and taking this message of homelessness, and the poor and needy living on the streets of Waikiki, back to the people of their country.

While we are unable to put a number on how many homeless are living in Waikiki, it is enough for a visitor from California to have commented during a previous incident, "It's incredible how many there are. I think you guys have a problem."

The problem in Waikiki was at an even more obvious level a few years ago, when the homeless had completely taken over the covered tables and benches fronting Waikiki Beach where the Friday Hula shows are staged nearby. Back then, even a “local” felt uncomfortable walking by as the homeless glared at passersby for intruding on their haven. And this is to say nothing of the stench that wafted from the area as certain spots were continually used as urinals. But then came the multi-million dollar beautification program of Kuhio Avenue, which was completed at the end of 2004, and to keep pace, the homeless were moved out of the little “towns” they had created along Kalakaua. Today, the Waikiki Aloha Patrol, an Aloha United Way volunteer project, keeps the area better controlled.

Back in February of this year, a legislative committee met to discuss the impact of homelessness on Hawaii's tourism industry. The House tourism chair pushed again for the establishment of Safe Zones, where the homeless can set up camp away from tourist settings like Waikiki and Ala Moana. The state Homeless Coordinate, Marc Alexander, said at the meeting that Governor Abercrombie wants to eliminate homelessness, stating, "He wants it done in a way that respects the dignity of each human person and allows our citizens to be fully involved, get the whole community involved in this."

Hawaii Tourism Association President Juergen T. Steinmetz wholeheartedly agrees that this issue has to be addressed more effectively both from a tourism standpoint and from the need for a more humane solution to a human problem. He presented a solution to the Governor’s office, based on a German approach. Steinmetz said, “We realize this cannot be an overall solution, but it could be a start in a meaningful direction.”

Germany dealt with their unemployment and homeless issue under their famous "1 Euro concept.” Steinmetz took Germany’s approach and added his vision as to how such a program could work in Hawaii. Here is what he came up with in his draft presented:

In Germany, the program provides one-euro an hour jobs (US$1.45/hour) that were created for those claiming public unemployment benefits, which is in addition to monies and benefits they are already receiving. Additionally, the money earned from these jobs is tax free. This gives unemployed persons the possibility to actively participate in working life again, with the stated aim being to find the way into permanent employment through this job.

In order to prevent regular jobs from being destroyed by these cheap jobs, one-Euro jobs may not replace established employment contracts but must be of public interest, neutral to competition, and be purposeful with regard to the job market. Charitable work and jobs of a temporary nature are what has resulted, including looking after parks, neighborhoods, the youth, and seniors. The providers of such jobs are cities/towns, municipalities or public institutions, and selected private sector businesses.

Here, Mr. Steinmetz provides an overview of his "Second Chance Employment Program" for Hawaii’s homeless.

Purpose:

• Should motivate the person to re-establish a regular workweek habit (get up, go to work, go home).
• Should make it easier to slide back into regular employment.
• Establishes an employment record.
• Removes people under this program from the unemployed status statistics.

This program should be made available to:
• US citizens and legal permanent residents that lived in Hawaii for more than one year.
• People must be able to work. Equal opportunity jobs under Hawaii and Federal guidelines.
• The program should be available to people released from incarceration and also people with a criminal records. Private companies should be informed of such a record, and be allowed to not hire people with a criminal record. The public sector should set less strict requirements.
• Unemployed for more than a certain time period, specifically for unemployed homeless people.
• Must maintain a clean record during employment under this program.
• Must maintain a strict grooming standard when employed under this program.
• No drug or alcohol abuse when employed under this program.
• Must maintain the employment for at least 6 months and with a clean record to be allowed to continue for a second 6 months period, unless regular job opportunities open.
• Maximum employment for 30 hours to allow time to apply for permanent employment.

Reimbursement in addition to regular unemployment insurance, food stamps, or other social benefits usually available to such people:

• 1 USD an hour for the first 3 months.
• 2 USD an hour for the second 3 months.
• 3 USD an hour for the next 6 months.
• 5 USD an hour for another 12 months under certain conditions (people that would not qualify for a regular job despite trying).

• Health insurance, workman's comp paid in part by those employing and the State.

Benefits for people under this program:

• People under this program should jump in front of the line to receive low-income housing.
• Employers willing to provide housing to homeless people should receive State benefits.
• The State may provide help with rent and deposits as a long-term loan to currently homeless people under this program, similar to a student loan.
• People under this program no longer count as unemployed (and homeless) in statistics.
• People would have some additional money to help with adjusting to a regular life and for personal items like furniture, clothes, etc.
• Fair chance to extend this program and slide into a regular employment contract.

Benefits for those employing:

• Available to the public sector for projects that could not be completed due to budget or low priorities. It could include anything from beach clean-up, tourism ambassador program, 211 operators, mentor programs, care for the elderly or handicapped, construction crews for projects that did not receive a budget to complete.
• Available to the private sector under certain qualifications: 1) Clean record in regards to employing people; 2) Company would not have to eliminate jobs to hire people under this program; 3) Start-up ventures, social services (hospitals, homes for elderly people, handy jobs, etc).
• Affordable opportunity to expand business and establishing new jobs gradually.

Concerns and additional suggestions:

• Companies should get encouragement to offer permanent employment to people under this program at any time. In other words, a company changing the employment to a regular contract after 1 month should be able to receive certain benefits.
• The purpose should be for companies to take advantage of this program and create a regular full-time job for this person, at the latest after 2 years.
• Companies that would terminate such employment, except for specific reasons (criminal activities, no show, etc.) should not be allowed to hire additional help under this program.
• Companies should be required to provide a quarterly evaluation to be shared with Social Services and the employed person. Social Services should have tools to reward those with exceptional records, and lecture those with negative records or cut certain benefits.

Steinmetz mentioned his vision to Hawaii state Governor Abercrombie on two occasions. First he delivered his ideas to Governor Abercrombie several months ago. Apparently this information did not make it to his desk. The Governor requested another copy and asked Marc R. Alexander, the Governor's Coordinator on Homelessness, to study this proposal. Steinmetz discussed his plan with Mr. Alexander two weeks ago and a further response is pending.

Steinmetz added that he realizes this is not a universal solution that will work every homeless individual, such as those that are mentally challenged and with their prescribed medication, but it will work for many.

eTurboNews knows of a once high-level leader (name withheld for confidentiality) within the Democratic party who is now living at the party’s headquarters on Ward Avenue.

For someone like this person, this program would work, and the more homeless that we get off the streets and back into jobs, the more money becomes available to the state to further assist those that need more help than what this program can offer.

The Hawai`i Tourism Association’s (HITA) mission is to inform, educate, and update the global travel industry on current and emerging trends, economics, events, activities, businesses, and marketing that help shape the tourists’ perception of the Hawaiian Islands.

HITA serves as a discussion forum for issues affecting industry members interested in doing business in Hawai`i while also working with new markets and regions expressing interest in visiting the islands. The association offers member services that enhance the Hawaiian experience and promote the indigenous people, culture, and uniqueness which differentiates the most geographically-remote place on Earth from other island sand-sun-surf vacation and business destinations.

More information: http://www.hawaiitourismassociation.com

HiTA offers a constructive approach to deal with Hawaii homeless issues

Image via dtmhomeless.com



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