Solving Hawaii’s Homeless Problem

campingtentA recent event has brought the issue of Hawaii’s homelessness to the forefront of the public’s awareness. A Hawaii State Representative, Tom Brower decided to grab resident’s attention by taking a sledgehammer to shopping carts ordinarily used by the homeless to store and maneuver what little possessions they have. In his attempt at a “practical way to clean up the streets”, Brower has taken a stance on his opinion of Hawaii’s homeless which I find agreeable to some degree.

While the antics taken against the homeless during his one-man mission seemed unethical and unprecedented, the general premise of his actions seemed reasonable. By staking a claim that Hawaii residents need to be more concerned about the effects that homelessness can have on our society should be something everyone is aware of. The homeless do not represent one singular entity but encompass vast communities of individuals that have faced many challenges such as economic hardships, lack of affordable housing and services, plus a myriad of various other reasons all that have brought them to the current situation. It is unfortunate, but the rising homelessness populations are having a negative impact on our tourist sector, the driving force behind our economy. The importance of maintaining a clean and positive image by means of government intervention and assistance should be a top priority for community leaders and officials, especially in a tourism-driven economy building the public’s concern and involvement in keeping Hawaii a tourism-friendly state.

Hawaii’s economy has always been driven and maintained in part by our tourism sector. Hawaii’s tourism industry brought in 7.99 million visitors with a total visitor expenditure equivalent to $14.3 billion in 2012 alone, according to statistics by the Hawaii Tourism Authority.  The growing homeless population, especially in vulnerable areas such as Waikiki where tourist are centered should be an area of concern for tourism officials, as well as the local public. The tropical image normally seen in postcards and travel brochures are now being tainted with images that tourist will not expect to see. President George Szigeti of the Hawaii Tourism and Lodging Association stated to Hawaii’s KHON-TV news in June of this year that tourist complaints are steadily increasing with some visitors actually saying that they are not likely to return to Hawaii. Negative attention can spread like wildfire, especially in an era where social media is so prominent in the everyday lives of tourists and residents alike. We need positive publicity to attract visitors that help fund our economy.

While Hawaii not only targets the leisure traveler, the tourism industry has also captured the meetings and conventions market that brings in foreign and government officials such as the APEC convention held here in 2011.  During this important time for Hawaii’s tourism industry, government efforts attempted to push the homeless out of sight for arriving foreign figureheads which showed a lack of effective planning towards the ongoing issue.

Along with meetings and conventions, Hawaii has now entered a brand new market segment as well. Now an official state legalizing same-sex marriages, the number of tourists to visit our state will begin to increase exponentially. A University of Hawaii study examined the possible revenues to be generated from this new tourism segment and predicted about $217 million in additional visitor spending. With his influx of visitors to begin coming to our state, the urgency and importance for a strategic plan needs to be developed and maintained that will not just constitute a quick fix, but one that will generate long term results.

According to the “Statewide Homeless Point-in Time Count 2012 Methodology and Results” statistics of homeless individuals that were un-sheltered totaled 1,318 for a total of 30.3% of the entire homeless population. Funding for additional shelters in Waikiki would be one solution to help combat having homeless individuals on the street. A report for the Waikiki Business Improvement District Association suggests the following steps to be taken by the state: Provide legal services and advocates for homeless individuals, increase the capacity of current medical, mental health and substance abuse treatment programs, offer social skills classes to improve behavioral patterns of individuals, and to assist homeless individuals with job placement and job attainment skills, and increase the amount of affordable housing. Hawaii’s has the highest median home price of any state averaging around $522,000.  A possible Affordable Housing Act to keep prices affordable for local communities might also help. These suggestions address some of the leading causes of homelessness: unemployment, and problems paying rent. Those in opposition of these solutions may not believe in the results that these services may provide, but it seems a logical solution. These individuals seem to be in need of help, and the reason that no improvement has been shown is because there is no help being offered. If we are to educate and provide these individuals with support, they may just be able to get back on their feet-they can’t do it alone.

Again, the importance of maintaining a positive image for our states tourism economy is key. We need to be able to maintain repeat visitors while also being able to accommodate new arrivals. However, when compared to the amount of tourist and visitor complaints, there seemed to have been a lag of immediate action taken in reaction to the growing homelessness problem. Tom Brower had the right idea for bringing homelessness back on the front page. Not exactly the way I would have done it, but a step forward for this issue. Immediate action and planning does need to go into effect, and I believe that it starts with us: the residents and general public. We need to show our concern and raise awareness for the issue at hand that will drive government officials to notice and take action. Not only is it important for the concern and wellness of our tourism sector, but for the benefit of our residents, and the safety and security of our travelers. The time for action is now.

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5 Comments to “Solving Hawaii’s Homeless Problem”

  1. You are right. Homelessness is a serious problem in Hawaii. For travelers and tourists, it could be quite a shock to experience this. I am not really aware of the programs available to them nor do I see anyone trying to inform them of these programs. We need to let these people know more about them.

    Fact: It is expensive to live in Hawaii. The islands are crowded, and there are very few good paying jobs, even for local people, let alone outsiders. People from mainland should not expect to find work here, and besides, they would be taking jobs away from people who were born or lived a long time in Hawaii. Many Americans have been coming in the islands from the mainland states and crowding the place. Job opportunities are limited here.

  2. I understand the connection you are trying to make with Brower’s actions and the need for change in regards to the homeless situation in Hawaii; however, I do not agree with his methods. There are many things that can be done to productively help the homeless epidemic, but his methods were not one of them.

  3. Tom Brower should be arrested. It’s wrong for him to go out and address this issue by destroying people’s property. Just because he’s a state representative it doesn’t mean he can got out in public with a sledgehammer. He got the people’s attention because it is not normal to see this happening during the day. The sledgehammer is seen as a weapon, which makes people feel scared and threatened by it. There are other ways to do this. The “return-to-home” program was a solution, but most are actual residents living in Hawaii. The high cost of living and lack of affordable housing made the homeless problem even worse. Hawaii state lawmakers should do something about this to keep the tourist coming.

  4. I think that the homeless population is a really big deal in Hawaii. I don’t know if it really drives tourism away or if it just seems like the norms of a popular city. I think that this was a big cry for attention from the homeless community. They really do impact our community regardless of if we support them or not. I usually take a day out of a week or so and hand out food to the homeless people down the street from my house. They seem to really appreciate it and keep to themselves. I do see how they would get into situations such as these because a lot of people can be disrespectful and look down on the homeless community. Housing on the other hand is not cheap, especially if it is for a homeless community with no means of income. Maybe they can start a sustainable homeless housing center. Housing in Hawaii is not cheap at all. I am far from homeless and I still have to live paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet.

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