The sun sets on another beautiful day in Hawaii. Smiles run rampant among locals and tourists alike. The tropical environment provides a haven for wildlife and its majestic feel draws in tourists and transplants from all over. Yet, while witnessing this beauty over the last ten days when visiting Kauai and Maui, I could not help but think of Hawaii's homeless epidemic.
As the homeless population decreased in states across America, Hawaii's homeless population rose 18% from 2010-2014. Hawaii has highest rate of homelessness among states, with 465 out of 100,000 people characterized as homeless. Three quarters of Hawaii's homeless population live in Ouahu. In December, Honolulu's Mayor, Kirk Caldwell, signed a bill that bans people from sitting in the busiest parts of the city from 5am to 11pm. The bill is called "compassionate disruption." The purpose of the bill is to get the homeless off the streets and into housing. If homeless individuals are found breaking this law, they face up to 30 days in jail or a $1,000 fine. The penalty seems extreme, especially since the cost of living in Hawaii is out of reach for most middle class families. Renting a two-bedroom apartment in Honolulu, on average, costs $1,800 a month. (Sidenote: affordable housing is becoming increasingly unavailable not only in Hawaii, but across the country.)
Politicians in Hawaii have been looking for ways to combat their homeless epidemic, but they are quickly finding out that their recent initiative is not working. The compassionate disruption bill is counterproductive because those who are homeless do not have a place to sleep, let alone enough money to pay the $1,000 fine. If they are sent to jail, the odds of them landing a job once released significantly decrease because they now have a criminal record. The businesses in Hawaii support this bill because at the heart of Hawaii's economy is the $14.5 billion dollars brought in through tourism. Businesses are aware that the homeless population sheds a negative light on their state, but until a realistic solution is reached this problem will not get any better. Recently, Mayor Caldwell proposed sending some homeless individuals to Sandy Island, which not only ships them away from visitors, but was also recently tested for contaminents such as lead, arsenic, and dieldrins.
On a somewhat brighter note, Honolulu has started placing homeless individuals into the Housing First Program. "While waiting for the soils testing results, the City was able to start placing individuals and family units into the Housing First program, and we are now up to housing 37 households, including 43 individuals,” Deputy Managing Director Georgette Deemer said in a statement related to Sand Island as a possible relocation spot. The Housing First Program worked extremely well with reducing homelessness in Utah, but Hawaii's problems are far greater than those faced by Utah.
The tourism industry should continue to thrive in Hawaii based off of the sheer beauty of the islands, so hopefully with all of the income coming into the state, politicians can figure out how to properly and effectively help the individuals who need it most.