Controversial homeless program to buy plane tickets hits a snag

Published On: Aug 30 2013 07:26:06 PM HST   Updated On: Aug 30 2013 07:29:36 PM HST

You may have heard of the controversial "Return to Home" program to pay for tickets to send homeless people home. One woman is telling her story of how it would help, right as the state decides not to fund it.

"If it wasn't for him, there were a number of times where I would have given up," said Lisa, with her Pomeranian Nalo Boy, her companion of nine years, by her side.

In the late 1980s, she said she followed her job as a flight attendant to Hawaii.

But in later years she was hit by job cuts and divorce, and kicked out as a caretaker when others moved in.

"Pretty much from there my life went downhill," she said.

Lisa said she usually sleeps at Piano Park on King Street during the daytime and slept near McKinley High School at night until they kicked her out.

She said she'd like to stay at a shelter, but the answer's always been "no dogs allowed."

"And I wasn't about to give him up to anybody. He's been my buddy, my companion," she said of Nalo Boy.

Originally from the East Coast, Lisa said she knew it was time to leave, but with no home, no job and no money, she said she longed to be back home, but couldn't afford the ticket.

"We want them to get back to a strong support unit, to get them back on their feet, and to get a job or go back to school," said Rep. John Mizuno.

A handful of lawmakers, including Mizuno, started a program called Return to Home, to pay for tickets to send homeless people home.

But the Department of Human Services rejected the plan and refused to allocate funds, saying the program would be "...costly and administratively burdensome."

"It's unfortunate. We know it works. We've seen it work. We've sent more than 20 people back," said Mizuno.

"I've come across an awful lot of compassion," said Lisa.

Lisa said her family is now trying to scrape together the money for a ticket, so she can return home and start again.

"Leaving here is sad. I have a lot of history, a lot of history. But my kids are home and I want to be with my kids," she said.

In the past, Mizuno said he's collected donations and used some of his own money to pay for tickets, but not taxpayer money.

He hopes to meet with the governor next month, to try to fund at least part of the program.

He said cities such as San Francisco and New York already have similar, successful programs.


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