Hawaii Declares State Of Emergency As Homeless Population Rises

Hawaii has a huge homelessness problem, and Governor David Ige believes that declaring a state of emergency will help fix it.

When a governor declares a state of emergency, it’s typically in response to, or in preparation for, a natural disaster. For instance, Governor Ige issued an emergency proclamation last August when it looked like Hurricane Ignacio would slam into the state.

In this case, Governor Ige has signed an emergency proclamation to help free up money that can then be put to use in dealing with the state’s growing homelessness problem.

According to CNN, Hawaii doesn’t have that many homeless people in terms of absolute numbers. A spokeswoman for Governor Ige said that a 2015 statewide count put the total homeless population at about 7,620, which pales in comparison to places like California, with 114,000 homeless, and New York, with 80,000.

The reason that a seemingly small number of homeless are such a cause for concern to Governor Ige is that Hawaii is a much smaller state, in terms of population, than California or New York.

New York Daily News reports that Hawaii recorded a 23 percent increase in its unsheltered homeless population in the last year in addition to a 46 percent increase in unsheltered families. And at 465 homeless per 100,000 citizens, Hawaii has the highest per capita homeless population in the United States.

According to the New York Daily News, the state of emergency to deal with the homelessness problem comes shortly after a massive effort to clear out one of Hawaii’s largest homeless encampments.

Local television station KHON2 reports that the the encampment in Kakaako Makai was finally cleared last Wednesday, but it didn’t go as well as planned.

According to KHON2, authorities hoped to move the homeless out of the Kakaako encampment and into shelters, but many homeless people simply moved to the nearby Kakaako Waterfront Park.

Some local residents were less than enthusiastic with the results of the effort.

According to Governor Ige, the effort succeeded in moving a significant percentage of the homeless from the Kakaako encampment into housing.

“The state, city, federal governments and various service providers have worked together to place 158 individuals and 25 families from Kaka’ako into shelters since the effort began in early August. That’s 54 percent of homeless individuals surveyed in Kaka’ako in early August and more than 80 percent of the families surveyed.”

By declaring a state of emergency, Governor Ige hopes to free up money to address the issue of homelessness. According to the emergency proclamation, there are three major ways that the state hopes to approach the problem.

“Gov. David Ige today signed an emergency proclamation that enables the state to quickly funnel money toward the facilitation of (1) rapid construction of a temporary shelter for homeless families; (2) the immediate extension of existing contracts for homeless services; and (3) an immediate increase in funding for programs that promote immediate housing.”

According to the Guardian, part of the money will be used to build enough transitional housing to accommodate 15 families at a time. A location has not yet been found for the project, but two of the potential sites are located in Kakaako, the same neighborhood that authorities just finished sweeping homeless people out of.

Another temporary solution involves converted shipping containers. New York Daily News reports that a number of these have been installed on Sand Island, which is a small island in Honolulu harbor. Each unit has a window, screen door, and a reflective roof. According to authorities, these features keep the interior of the structures about 30 degrees cooler than they would otherwise be.

The state of emergency has already freed up $1.3 million in funds, which Governor Ige says will allow Hawaii to provide services for far more homeless individuals and families in the coming year.

[Photo credit: Theodore Trimmer / Shutterstock.com]