Contrary to popular belief, Hawaii isn’t the perfect paradise that many people imagine it to be. In fact, it is more of a Land of Struggle to many Hawaiians living in the island. Hawaii has one of the worst rates of homelessness in the country. According to the governor’s spokesperson Cindy McMillan, there is currently roughly 7,000 homeless people in the state of Hawaii. While the number presented is not as large as the homeless population of bigger cities like Los Angeles, which has a whopping 100,000 homeless people in the city, we have to take into account that Hawaii’s population is only about 1.36 million (according to the US Census Bureau), as compared to 10.02 million in the city of Los Angeles alone. At 465 people per 100,000 citizens, Hawaii has the highest rate of homelessness per capita of any of the 50 states.
To add salt to the wound, Scott Morishige, The Governor’s Coordinator on Homelessness mentioned that as homelessness increased by 23 percent between 2014 and 2015, the number of unsheltered families almost doubled. The increase was driven by years of rising costs in the island. Moreover, there were low wages and limited land for the island which prompt homeless Hawaiians to spend their night on beaches and local streets as there was no place called home that they can go back to. The government dealt with this problem by doing what they do best – chasing the homeless away.
Hawaiian civic leaders felt that the problem with visible homelessness could lead to the financial downfall of the island state because the Hawaiian economy relies so heavily on tourism. They claimed that visitors will be turned off from seeing homeless people sleeping in parks and the beach which will then decrease the rate of tourism of the island. Honolulu officials report that they do a major cleaning session regularly by disposing off unclaimed property left in the parks and beaches of Hawaii, in order to maintain Hawaii’s public image of being a paradise. Officials regularly ticket the homeless with fines, and new public park hours have been implemented. On December 2nd, 2014, Mayor Kirk Caldwell signed a bill that bans people from sitting or lying down on public spaces between the hours of 5am and 11pm. Those who do so can be fined up to $1,000 and jailed for up to 30 days.
The Hawaii government has also allowed the spending of $1.3 million to expand services to homeless individuals and families. Apart from helping the homeless build new shelters, the money also would go to the state’s Housing First program.
The Housing First program is a nationally recognized best practice that is proven to be the most effective and efficient approach to getting chronically homeless people off of the streets. The program helps houses chronically homeless in permanent supportive housing which takes them off of the streets by providing them with a stable and safe home. The program has been proven as a success on many different cities in the country such as Portland and Los Angeles.