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Homelessness test of humanity

It has been two months since Maui County and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources cleared the homeless encampment at Amala Place in Kanaha.

Called an “intervention,” the action forced about 60 residents of the camp to relocate. Some had lived downwind of the Kahului Wastewater Treatment Plant for years. Despite what the county insists was ample warning and a history of offering assistance, many residents lost their belongings in the sweep. Some 58 tons of solid waste and 54 derelict vehicles were reportedly removed.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit against Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino and Maui County on behalf of former residents who claim the sweep violated their constitutional rights. We do not know where this litigation will lead, but one hopes it brings stakeholders together to find better solutions to our homelessness challenges.

Clearing Amala did not solve the issue on Maui. It moved people around. New camps have sprung up. Vehicles jam the sides of roads at night. People fall through the cracks of our social safety net.

Ideally, housing would be available for every person in need. There would be easy access to mental and physical health services, drug counseling, job training and placement. Impoverished children would receive day care and educational and vocational assistance to help them move forward in life.

Even when such options are available, there are still people who prefer living on the streets and beaches. For some it is a lifestyle choice. Others are adrift due to mental health or addiction problems. Some are newly homeless, folks who are down on their luck and working to turn things around.

What do these campers need? Those who provide for the homeless say it comes down to basics such as: sanitation, fresh water, food, safe shelter, wound care and assistance with paperwork. Access to health and social services is important, but without a secure place to store belongings, many are afraid to leave their campsites for fear of having their valuables stolen.

We never understood the attraction to camping at windy Amala Place. Why live next to a smelly wastewater treatment facility? Its proximity to Kahului, the ocean and Kanaha Beach Park’s facilities undoubtedly were selling points, but it seemed like a punishment to reside there.

Surely we can do better by our houseless brothers and sisters. Some need a leg up, a home in which to regroup. Others may not be ready to conform to the rules that requires. Perhaps those souls could be helped, temporarily, by simply having a protected spot to park near drinking water and a bathroom. Get them settled and get them help.

Homelessness is a growing worldwide challenge, an ongoing test of mankind’s humanity and its ingenuity. Maui can and should ace this test.

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