Fining and Jailing Hawaii Homeless is Not a Solution

It seems like in almost every city, there is a homeless population. These people live on the streets, under bridges, in forests, or anywhere they can find shelter. From my time living in Hawaii, I know these people very well. It is not uncommon to see them lined up in the sidewalk on Kalakaua Ave., in tents on the beach or sidewalk, in cars on Monsorat Ave. near the zoo, etc. It is also not uncommon to encounter homeless people asking you for money, food, and so on. Currently the state of Hawaii is trying to pass a bill that would charge homeless people a $1000 fine or 30 days in jail for setting up camp on the sidewalks, or existing anywhere in Waikiki.  The thought behind this is that the homeless will eventually have to turn to the shelters, who can help them get the care that they need in hopes of one day getting them off the streets for good. I feel that this approach is completely inappropriate because there are many other things that the government and the public can do to get people off of the streets.

The reasons that people become homeless in the first place are so broad, that they are almost unnecessary to explain. Mental illness, homelessness by choice, and substance abuse are some of the leading reasons. The fact of the matter is that millions of people are homeless in the United States, thousands more become homeless each year, and the systems in place are clearly not working. Unfortunately being homeless is a crime. Homelessness is under categories such as vagrancy, loitering and trespassing. It is very easy for homeless to be arrested for various minor offenses, however they are commonly turned away from jails, because by the time they get there they are sent home due to over crowding.

In Hawaii, I don’t feel that it is necessary to arrest the homeless. Fighting for survival is not a crime. The state of Hawaii needs to make an effort to make a conversation with as many homeless people as possible, and find out what their exact needs are. From there they can consolidate the information, and begin tackling whatever the majority of the problems are. A system like what I just described, has become successful in New York City. The organization is called Common Ground. After surveying homeless people in New York, the have found that the first step is placing the homeless in appropriate housing. When homeless people are in housing, their specific situations can be easier assessed by volunteers, such as their mental, physical, and medical needs. I feel that this makes a lot of sense for the homeless, it may even be the ultimate solution. Furthermore, it makes a lot of sense for the taxpayers because it is estimated that giving the homeless housing is 40 percent cheaper than leaving them on the streets. I may even go far enough by saying that this system could be the ultimate solution.

Some people refute that helping the homeless by putting them into housing projects, and giving them medical care is extremely expensive. However, the fact of the matter is that it is just the opposite. According to Tampa Bay Times, an average homeless person costs taxpayers $30,000 each year. This cost is calculated primarily by costs in soup kitchens, emergency rooms, and jails. However if homeless people are placed in appropriate care housing projects, their total cost of living is only $605 per month, or $7,260 each year. These predictions come from a 2009 study called Where We Sleep: The Costs of Housing and Homelessness in Los Angeles. This study followed and interviewed 10,193 homeless people and found out what their exact needs were. Their solution was certainly centered around housing projects, however it also have light onto the pressing issues which were the drug/alcohol and mental illness problem that most homeless people face. Addressing the mental health is certainly more complicated, however addressing drug and alcohol abuse was very manageable. The study found that the cost of operating rehabilitation counseling for the homeless had the lowest cost of all and it yielded the greatest benefit.

Others suggest that homelessness can be solved if the homeless receive the appropriate care. This ideology has been implemented over the last few weeks by the Obama administration, who passes a bill to provide $16.3 billion dollars to the efforts of getting veterans off the streets. This bill will provide money to housing projects, medical care, employment opportunities. I feel that this is a good start, however it only targets veterans. Obviously someone who fought for our country should be taken care of by our country after their service, but the veteran population of homeless is estimated to only be around 12 percent.

Recently, a lawmaker in Hawaii suggested that a solution to end homelessness would to give the Hawaii homeless one free one-way plane ticket to the mainland. I feel that this solution is flawed for several reasons. First, I believe that the homeless are there because they want to be in the best climate for homeless people. Next, sending the homeless to the mainland just created problems for cities on the mainland by adding more people to their homeless population. Next, there is nothing to prevent the homeless people coming back to Hawaii after they have been sent to the mainland.  However the most nonsense thing of all about this initiative is that Representative Rita Cabanilla said that moving homeless to the mainland “preserves funds for your own kamaaina.”  I see this statement as painfully discriminatory, and I hope that this is not the motivation behind why other politicians and citizens want to get homeless people out of Hawaii. I feel that more than anything, sending the homeless off-island is not an ultimate solution, it’s just sweeping the problem under the rug.

After taking sociology, I learned that some people suggest that homelessness is just a factor of society, it is a natural occurrence, and if we intervene with this process, it will just contribute to more problems. However, I seriously disagree with this, because statistically a majority of homeless people are homeless because of some physical, mental, medical, emotional, hardship. If through intervention we are able to reduce these hardships, then I believe there will be less homeless people.

Some people say that they don’t want to help homeless people in their community because many of  the homeless people are criminals. According to Poverty Insights, people who make this statement need to take a step back and realize the types of crimes that are being committed. Some of the most famous crimes that are being by homeless is prostitution, shoplifting, and theft. Of course, there are also homeless that commit more serious crimes like murder, and violence, but it has been found that this is a small majority. We all need to realize that these people are fighting for their lives. If someone is deprived of money to buy their meals, then of course they would be willing to do almost anything to get it. This goes for goods other than food for the homeless. Homeless people are constantly looking for necessary survival equipment such as blankets, jackets, tarps, and shelter materials. According to the Poverty Insights article, the homeless are more susceptible to be victims of crime, than to be criminals. Homeless people are constantly found dead after being beaten to death. It has been found that a majority of these beatings or killings are associated to hate crimes.

I feel that he ultimate solution to end homelessness in Hawaii will ultimately come from grants and donations. These funds will be able to go into food, shelter, medicine, and rehabilitation programs. When we fine and arrest the homeless the problem is in no way solved, it only makes the problem worse. Recently, Hawaii received $2 million in veteran grant money from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. I feel that this is a great start to get the veteran portion of homeless back on track. Further discussion has arose to place “care meters” on the sidewalks so people can make donations. A care meter system has been proven successful in Denver where it brought in $190,000 for care of the homeless. I believe homelessness in Hawaii will end when the appropriate amount of money is placed into appropriate care programs.

It is easy for people to turn a blind eye to the issues that the homeless face. However I know that life can be pretty unfair sometimes, and if by chance any one of us ended up on the streets, we would be frustrated too with the current system of care. I believe that the solution will come form volunteers who will donate their time, money, and resources. It is completely unnecessary to fine and criminalize homeless, when there are so many other solutions -a few of which I just described.  Sometimes life beats you down, and all you need is someone kind to give you the confidence and the resources to move on. I believe this is true for everyone, including the homeless.

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One Comment to “Fining and Jailing Hawaii Homeless is Not a Solution”

  1. I think it is ridiculous to fine a homeless person! If they do not have the means to support themselves, then where are they going to get the money to pay the fine? Also the homeless would be more than glad to be stuck in jail. At least it’s a temporary shelter. Hawaii’s government is playing the “let us hide all the homeless.” They are wasting police resources by trying to move them away from the main tourist areas, beaches, etc. Well where do they want them to go? They pitch up tents on the sidewalks because they cannot pitch it anywhere else. I think for a temporary solution, they should allow the the homeless to pitch up their tents on park property at certain times (i.e. 10 PM- 5 AM). Then Hawaii should progress to setting up homeless housing. However, Hawaii should really settle the affordable housing deal. At the rate we are going, there is going to be 4 generations living in one house!

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