Health and Human Services Providers Gearing Up for Legislative Session

Dec 4, 2017

PHOCUSED executive director, Natalie Okeson.
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

Social Service Organizations are gearing up for the 2018 State Legislative Session.  HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.

Homelessness and affordable housing top the list of legislative priorities for health and human services agencies.  Natalie Okeson, executive director of PHOCUSED, the advocacy coalition, says housing should be a priority for families with annual incomes of 31-thousand dollars or 30 percent of the area median income – AMI.

“We need new developments and we can’t always talk about under 80 percent AMI.  We need to also be looking all the way down to under 30 percent AMI where many of our minimum wage workers are at.”

Natalie Woo, senior policy analyst for Hawai'i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice.
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

Nicole Woo, senior policy analyst for the Hawai’i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, says a 15-dollar an hour minimum wage and an increase in the low income renter’s credit will help struggling families.

“Currently, the low income renter’s credit is only $50 per person in the household.  So, if we were to increase it just for inflation since the 1980s, it should be up around $150.  So let’s say you have a single mom with 2 kids.  That would be $450.”

State Senator, Stanley Chang, says homelessness will be the top issue next session and the interim solution is safe zones for the homeless.

“The development process in Hawai’i is incredibly slow.  So, in the meantime, how are we going to get these people off the streets.  It is not these grandiose schemes of thousands of units of new affordable housing.  It’s just impossible.”

State Senator Stanley Chang, Representative John Mizuno and Senator Karl Rhoads.
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

Representative John Mizuno has supported safe zones for a dozen years and believes they can work.

“Three administrations and what have we really accomplished?  We’re still the highest per capita in the nation for homelessness.  A safe zone can be done.  We can have security.  The concern is liability.  The other concern many people say is NIMBY -- not in my back yard.”

Senator Karl Rhoads supports safe zones but says there are hurdles, including legal ones.

“You gotta find a neighborhood where people are willing to accept it and, I think, that’s probably gonna be very difficult.  The other problem is, I’m not aware of making anybody go to the safe zone as a Constitutional matter, I doubt if there is a way to make them go.”

For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.