(BIVN) – A bill that will “assist homeless with the ability to secure a flight back to their family in their home State” is moving through the Hawaiʻi State Legislature.
On Tuesday, the State House Committees on Human Services and Health & Homelessness voted to recommend that House Bill 1366 be passed with amendments. The measure “requires the Department of Human Services to establish a three-year return-to-home pilot program to return homeless individuals in the State to families and relatives in their home states,” and appropriates funds for the implementation of the pilot program.
“Working to reconnect homeless with their family, a strong support group which will support them in regaining self-sufficiency is essential to help all people in need,” said Rep. John Mizuno, who authored the bill. “Moreover, this will save our State millions of dollars for our local homeless. We only have a finite amount of funding for our local homeless,” Rep. Mizuno said.
Rep. Mizuno added:
“No homeless individual shall be eligible to participate in the program unless such participation is completely 1) voluntary, 2) if the individual is on parole, probation, or awaiting a court hearing or sentencing, he or she must have proper clearance from the court to participate in the program, and 3) the individual is indigent and lacks the financial resources necessary to secure transportation to return to the individual’s home State. Finally, the individual shall only participate in the program only once and must sign an agreement with the State and kept on file with the Department of Human Services.”
The Department of Human Services offered comments, noting the department “does not have the staff, rules, or system infrastructure to provide such services and maintain documentation to track whether an individual previously accessed the return-to-home funds.”
“The broader concern is the unintended consequence that a state-funded and state implemented program will attract individuals to Hawaii, knowing they may have access to a one-way return ticket by claiming to be homeless and lacking resources to return,” wrote Human Services director Cathy Betts. “This concern stems from experience and reports from contracted homeless service providers fielding inquiries from the U.S. mainland who plan to become homeless in Hawaii and access homeless services upon arrival or after they deplete their funds.”
However, former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, now the President & CEO of the Hawai‘i Lodging & Tourism Association, testified in support of the bill. Hannemann wrote:
Since 2014, our organization has helped to coordinate repatriation programs around the state for homeless individuals, working with organizations such as the Institute for Human Services, Kauai Economic Opportunity, Inc., and Maui Family Life Center. Utilizing both public and private funds, this program paid half the cost of the travel fare necessary for these individuals to return to their home, with the balance of the fare being paid by the individual, a family member, or similar. Pre-pandemic, it was reported that nearly 800 people participated and just two percent have returned to Hawai‘i.
We believe a major reason for this high level of success was that the repatriation program required that the individual be met at their destination by a family member or a loved one. This ensured that we were not sending people to other jurisdictions just to continue the cycle of homelessness but to receive the care and access to social programs and services that they needed through a caring and compassionate point of contact.
We strongly suggest amending the measure to include clarifying language to this effect.