November 9, 2015
Homelessness In Hawaii Reaches State Of Emergency

Homelessness in Hawaii has reached a state of emergency, as the tropical paradise now has more homeless residents per capita than any other state. In response to the dire situation, Governor David Ige diverted more than $1 million in funding to address the issue. Unfortunately, thousands are still living on the streets.

As discussed by Hope Services Hawaii, an estimated 15,000 Hawaiian residents are "homeless at some point of the year." An estimated 11 percent of those individuals are children, and 14 percent are military veterans.

Contrary to common stereotypes, homelessness in Hawaii is not limited to drug abusers and the mentally ill. An estimated 22 percent of the state's homeless are actually employed at least part-time.

As reported by ABC News, Hawaii's homelessness rates have steadily increased despite economic recovery throughout the rest of the nation. Officials blame low wages, combined with a higher cost of living and limited housing options.

Although the state does provide housing assistance to low-income individuals and families, there simply are not enough resources to go around.

The waiting list for Section 8 public housing is at least five years. Officials expect to add 800 public housing units within the next year. Unfortunately, they will need to add an estimated "27,000 affordable rental units by 2020" to accommodate the state's homeless population.

Approximately 30 percent of Hawaii's homeless population are Hawaiian. However, a majority of the remaining 70 percent are Pacific Islanders and other immigrants.

Although the government allows Pacific Islanders to seek asylum in the United States, the steady influx of immigrants is putting a strain on Hawaii's public resources, including education, employment, healthcare, and housing.

As the weather is generally mild, the homeless often sleep on beaches and in public parks. Waikiki Mayor Kirk Caldwell said he has received numerous complaints from residents and tourists.

"People cannot camp and take over parts of our city and state property that has been built and designed for everyone, not one specific group... It's not safe."

In an attempt to alleviate the issue, Waikiki "banned sitting and lying down on sidewalks." However, the law simply forced the city's homeless to seek shelter in residential neighborhoods, which only created more problems.

Faced with similar issues, Honolulu conducts weekly "sweeps" to clear homeless camps from public property. Although the sweeps provide a temporary solution, they cost the city $15,000 every week. The program has also received stark criticism, as the homeless have lost precious possessions during the sweeps.

Although homelessness in Hawaii is an ongoing problem, there are numerous programs to provide some degree of relief.

Outreach programs, including Homeless Outreach and SNAP outreach, deploy mobile units to provide homeless families and individuals with emergency supplies. The volunteers also help the needy apply for public assistance and refer them to other community organizations.

One-stop centers, which include The Friendly Place and Under His Wings, offer counseling, emergency meals, laundry facilities, restrooms, and showers. One stop centers also provide computers, fax machines, and mail services, which assist the homeless in seeking employment and further assistance.

Residential housing programs offer temporary shelter to families and individuals on an emergency basis. They also help Hawaii's homeless apply for permanent housing programs and other public assistance services.

In addition to providing service for residents who are already homeless, many organizations work toward preventing homelessness in Hawaii. Numerous programs offer short-term financial assistance, budgeting, dispute resolution, and tenants' rights.

City and state officials are also attempting to ease the burden with plans to build government-sponsored homeless camps on Sand Island and along the Waianae Coast.

Although lawmakers and volunteer organizations are working together to end homelessness in Hawaii, there simply are no easy answers.

[Image via Theodore Trimmer / Shutterstock.com]