Hawaii: A Paradise Plagued By Homelessness

Homelessness in Hawaii has continued to grow over the past few years. Today, there are 487 homeless per 100,000 people, which is the nation’s highest per capita rate of any state, above the rates of New York and Nevada, according to federal statistics.

The homeless rate in Hawaii has continued to grow since 2010, even as rates nationwide have fallen due to the economic recovery.

The increase has been caused primarily by years of rising costs, low wages, and limited land. The image of homeless people sleeping on beaches runs counter to the state’s idealized image as an island paradise.

State officials have tried several ways of solving the problem. They’ve offered homeless services, banned sitting and lying on sidewalks and proposed using shipping containers as temporary housing.

Gov. David Ige went as far as declaring a state of emergency on homelessness in October. Shelters and programs to help the homeless do exist. And there are plenty of empty beds available, according to service providers.

But the state needs 27,000 affordable rental units by 2020, and not enough money has been put aside to stay on track with that goal. Lawmakers have set aside money for just 800 units for this year.

People wait five years or more to get into state-run public housing. And the waiting list for Section 8 rent assistance is closed for about a decade after the list became too long.

Deja-Lynn Rombawa-Quarles, a Native Hawaiian and camp resident pleaded, to the Associated Press recently:

We should be helped first, because we really are suffering.

Just over the last year, the state’s population of homeless families rose by 46 percent according to Scott Morishige, state coordinator on homelessness, who blamed changes in public housing policy and mental health services.

The state doesn’t have a racial breakdown of the homeless people in Hawaii, but data on homeless shelter use show that 30 percent were at least in part Hawaiian and 27 percent were Pacific Islander.

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