HONOLULU -- A program that would help fly homeless people in Hawaii back to the mainland is being greeted with skepticism by the state's human services officials and groups that help the homeless.
A provision allowing the state Department of Human Services to coordinate a voluntary "return-to-home" program is included in a new state law. The department said it doesn't have any plans to implement the program at this time, but publicity surrounding it has officials worried nonetheless.
"It's encouraging people on the mainland to take a chance in coming to Hawaii knowing they can be returned," said Marc Alexander, director of community relations and development for the Institute for Human Services, the largest homeless service provider in the state. His organization already helps some people return each year to the mainland.
People are attracted to Hawaii for its pleasant weather and aloha spirit, Alexander said. But they arrive and face the reality that living in paradise is very expensive. He said that he has seen people run through their vacation money and wind up "using nonprofit service providers almost like hostels."
The Department of Human Services echoed Alexander's concerns.
"At the end of the day ... we remain concerned this program is an invitation to purchase a one-way ticket to Hawaii with a guaranteed return flight home," the agency said in a statement.
Only a small percentage of Hawaii's homeless people are from the mainland, said state Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland, D-Kalihi-Liliha, who authored the bill that proposed the program. But they are "very visible," she said, in places frequented by tourists, such as Honolulu's Chinatown and Waikiki.