Homeless in Hawaii: Governor Declares State of Emergency
If you’re thinking about ditching your 9-to-5 life in one of the Continental 48, or Alaska, in favor of the tropical paradise that is Hawaii, think again.
Chances are you’ll just wind up on the street. You’ll be one of the thousands of homeless people in Hawaii, which already has the highest rate of homelessness per capita among the 50 states, with an estimated 465 homeless individuals per 100,000.
They don’t need even one more. Not even you.
The situation is so bad, with more than 4,900 people wandering the streets of Hawaii every day and night, that Gov. David Ige (D) declared a state of emergency on Oct. 16.
As idyllic as the Hawaiian Islands are thought to be, the problem of homelessness in the state is not a new phenomenon. Nor has it ever been pretty.
A homeless encampment made up of tents and thrown-together cardboard shelters made out of boxes that became known as “Obamaville” covered 50 acres of Honolulu in 2010.
Obamaville was a blight. Nobody liked it, except those who called it home and built their houses out of whatever they could find blowing down the streets. But people in a nearby community got even more upset when the Obamavillians spilled into their neighborhood.
“Girls at the Waipio Soccer Complex walked into the women’s bathroom a few months ago and found a naked woman bathing in the bathroom sink,” Michele "Bud" Nagamine, who runs the 25-team Leahi Soccer Club that practices and plays at the soccer complex, told the Honolulu Star Advertiser in 2010. “Boys who went into the men’s bathroom also found a naked man bathing in the sink.”
A surprising percentage of today’s homeless are mainlanders. Hawaiian officials say the hundreds of people who decide to leave the mainland with dreams of paradise, but no money nor even a concrete plan for survival, are only adding to what is officially a crisis situation in America’s 50th state.
The Honolulu Star Advertiser reported more than 100 of the mainlanders who arrived in Hawaii since July 1 wound up bunking at the Institute for Human Services in Iwilei.
As an example, IHS spokesman Kimo Carvalho said four of the most recent arrivals were a Canadian couple with their two children. Mom and Dad sold everything they owned to get enough cash to buy a one-way ticket to Honolulu, figuring it had to be better than spending another winter in Canada.
This fiscal year, IHS officials expect to bed down way more than the 216 of these misguided mainlanders who washed upon the shores of Hawaii only to sleep their nights away at the IHS facility during the last fiscal year, which ended June 30.
In fact, so many mainlanders are begging for spare change during the day and a place to sleep every night, rumor has it that the other 49 states are sending their homeless to the islands of Hawaii.
Carvalho said there does not seem to be any truth to the rumor. It’s just one of the urban myths of Hawaii, he hopes.
But still the problem of homelessness in Hawaii has only worsened over the years, and shows no hope of improvement. So, Gov. Ige issued his emergency proclamation. If nothing else, state officials want to start cleaning up —and cleaning out — the massive tent cities that have sprung up in their parks.
“The alarming increase in unsheltered individuals and families over the past two years is particularly significant on O’ahu,” said Scott Morishige, the governor’s coordinator on homelessness.
He said Gov. Ige’s decision to declare a state of emergency would “expedite the state’s plans to help these individuals and families to more quickly transition to permanent housing.”
Ige said his office had identified more than $1.3 million in state funds to be used for that purpose, paving the way for the emergency proclamation.
The monies will serve an additional 1,000 homeless individuals between now and July 31, 2016, providing increased funding for homeless services and programs that promote permanent housing for families and the chronically homeless.
The emergency proclamation will also facilitate the construction of a transitional housing facility for homeless families. The facility will be temporary and have a clear sunset date.
“Despite the recent success of enforcement efforts in the Kaka’ako Makai area, homelessness remains a serious issue in every county throughout the state,” said Ige.
The fact that he pointed to Kaka’ako Makai as an example of how Hawaii can begin to solve its homelessness problem shows the first phase of this emergency campaign to wipe out homelessness will be conducted on the blade of a bulldozer.
Hawaiian officials began their Kaka’ako Makai solution by clearing out — over the objections of the ACLU — what has become a tent city of homeless residents that was staked out on approximately 30 acres of mostly waterfront property in Honolulu.
The ACLU petitioned a judge for a temporary restraining order in late September to stop the bulldozers that were used to level the shacks and tents, along with the vans that were used to load up the homeless. The request was rejected.
“We brought the motion for a TRO because the city had posted signs around Kakaako saying it would immediately destroy some kinds of property. Our only goal here is to make sure our client’s property is not immediately destroyed,” said Dan Gluck, ACLU Hawaii legal director.
This argument is not finished. The ACLU and the city of Honolulu are expected to be back in court to argue again about a restraining order in December.
Meanwhile, state, city, federal governments and various service providers have worked together to place 158 people and 25 families from Kaka’ako’s tent city into shelters since the effort began in early August.
Fifty-four percent of homeless individuals surveyed in Kaka‘ako in early August and more than 80 percent of the families surveyed are being resettled.
“The lesson learned is that great things can be accomplished when we all work together,” said Gov. Ige in a statement released by his office.