Honolulu lawmaker seeks probe into claims NYC is sending homeless people to other states

  • MIZUNO
  • GREEN

A state representative is requesting the U.S. attorney general investigate reports that the New York City government is sending homeless people to other states, including Hawaii.

Rep. John Mizuno, who represents Kalihi Valley and Kamehameha Heights in Honolulu, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr asking that his agency investigate claims made in a New York Post article published Oct. 26.

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According to that article, a “Special One-Time Assistance Program” has allegedly given homeless families in New York City money to pay one year of rent and sent them to 373 different cities throughout the country, including Honolulu.

The program, which allegedly does not tell the receiving city of the incoming families, supposedly saves New York City shelter funding, but has received widespread criticism from officials in the receiving cities as well as from advocates for homeless families, who report SOTA recipients being “abandoned” in barely livable conditions.

While the New York Post article mentions Hawaii in its headline, it does not appear to suggest Hawaii receives a significant proportion of SOTA recipients.

Nonetheless, Mizuno’s letter warns that the SOTA program will only exacerbate the state’s existing homelessness problem.

Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green said he is working to conduct a comprehensive investigation of the SOTA program and similar programs throughout the country.

After speaking with NYC officials, Green said that, as far as he knows, only one SOTA recipient has been sent to Hawaii within the past two years, and that recipient had a job plan. However, Green is reaching out to mayors and governors throughout the country to discover what impacts, if any, the SOTA program has had on them and if other cities have similar programs.

“If we discover that any municipality has policies that send homeless people to other cities, we will ask them to shut them down, and that they reimburse us for whatever cost it may have given us,” Green said.

Sharon Hirota, executive assistant to Mayor Harry Kim, said Hawaii did have a similar “Going Home” program, but that explicitly sent homeless people to the homes of families elsewhere on the mainland. In any event, she said, that program was shut down in 2016 because of a lack of funding.

Hirota said the existence of programs like SOTA has been widely speculated, but confirming them has been difficult. She said she has never met a homeless person who would confirm that they were a beneficiary of any such program.

“A lot of times, they just lost a job or something and they have no other opportunities, so they take their whole last paycheck and buy a one-way ticket over here,” Hirota said.

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In any case, Hirota said, the problem is dwarfed by the state’s existing homeless crisis. Homeless people who have been in the state for less than a year account for less than 10% of the state’s homeless population, she said.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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