Homeless Shelters for Hawaii

homeless hawaiiYou walk down a sidewalk with your friend, chatting. Your friend whispers suddenly, and you stare for a split second. Without thinking, you then duck your head and quicken your pace—you feel a little safer that way. You walk on with your head ducked and continue the conversation with your friend in a slightly hushed tone, taking the occasional sideway glance. Most of us can recognize this scene, having walked the streets of O‘ahu every day. This scene is so familiar, in fact, that the sight no longer shocks us anymore. Yet, we still feel a twinge of fear when we see them, the homeless. As a result, we brush them to the back of our thoughts, consequently ignoring the homeless who are in front of us. However, we must remember that homelessness is a growing problem that cannot be ignored. In fact, according to a recent statewide census the number of homeless on O‘ahu is more than 4,900, which is an increase of about 200 people from last year. This number has not and does not show signs of declining any time soon. Therefore, it can be assumed that this figure will continue to grow exponentially unless certain efforts are taken—that is, to create more homeless shelters.

Unfortunately, most of the measures taken thus far have not done much in the way of alleviating homelessness. For instance, the “sweeps” that have been taking place to clear sidewalks and parks are proving ineffective as they usually result in the homeless returning to the same sidewalks and parks. Not only are the sweeps ineffective, they are also proving to be tremendously expensive, costing taxpayers approximately $750,000 per year. Other solutions such as the recent site-lie ban, ordinances which were passed by the Honolulu City Council to prohibit people from sitting or lying on busy sidewalks, was intended to guide the homeless off the sidewalks and into shelters. This did not bode well, however, as it resulted in the homeless migrating to other areas such as Kaka‘ako, A‘ala Park, and the banks of Kapalama Canal. Not only did this prove ineffective, the sit-lie ban also caused problems for many of the homeless. To illustrate, according to a study, about 57 percent of homeless individuals who participated in the survey stated that their identification documents were confiscated during the sweeps. What is alarming about this is that only 16 percent of them were able to retrieve the documents afterward. This is due to the fact that the retrieval cost was $200. Thus, rather than having time and resources spent on such efforts, they should instead be spent toward finding spaces for shelters where the homeless could gain some benefits.

Such efforts to create more shelters can be seen in the recent attempt to transform the Hilo Hattie site on Nimitz Highway into a homeless shelter. The project demanded a steep financial commitment, however, which led to the city’s decision to not make the bid on the property. City Managing Director Roy Amemiya stated that another reason for the city’s decision was that it was “questionable whether homeless [would] choose to accept such shelter” as they would have only had “cot space.” While this might have been the case had the administration made the offer, it is still an undeniable fact that countless homeless people currently remain on the streets, the number being on the rise. At this point, any possible location that could serve to assist the homeless is a necessity. As such, some expense should be put toward creating shelters.

With this steep growth in numbers, there is also a rise in concerns regarding safety. For example, the number reports of assaults, thefts, and property damage in Kaka‘ako, which currently contains about 200 homeless tents, have increased. These tents are currently located near places such as the Children’s Discovery Center, the Kaka‘ako Waterfront Park, and the University of Hawai‘i medical school. Not only are business and schools affected by the issue of safety, but so are the homeless themselves. In fact, the homeless, especially children, the elderly, and those ill, are most likely to be defenseless against assaults and theft as they have no real way to protect themselves and their belongings. From this, we can then see that it is essential for homeless shelters to be created in order to ensure safety for all.

Despite these facts, some may argue against creating homeless shelters due to the nature of them being short-term solutions, that the city should only focus efforts toward creating long-term solutions such as fixing the lack of affordable housing. This type of thinking is not wrong. In fact, we are in urgent need of such solutions that directly deal with the causes of homelessness. However, these long-term solutions are something that require much time and planning and do not deal with the immediate symptoms that currently exist. Solely focusing efforts on these solutions would mean ignoring the fact that there are thousands who are, at the moment, on the streets. It means ignoring those whose fears continue to grow daily. Thus, with the nature of long-term solutions being what they are—long-term solutions—it seems that concentrating efforts toward homeless shelters is the choice we must take.

Along with those who see the idea as an ineffective solution, there are also those who reject the shelters due to fear that they may be built in their neighborhood. However, this then brings us to the simple and obvious reason why we should help the homeless, which is that, like us, they are human too. They are ultimately people who need support and assistance, which cannot be given by anyone other than us.

Further efforts are currently being made to find spaces for homeless shelters. In fact, Governor Ige has created a leadership team to tackle the issue of homelessness. This team includes the governor himself, Mayor Kirk Caldwell, the chair of the Honolulu City and Council, the head of the state Department of Human Services, and other representatives from all government levels. The leadership team will be looking for spaces to create temporary shelters, prioritizing families. As Governor Ige and the leadership team continue working toward the difficult task of finding and creating shelters, let us remember that their efforts are to alleviate the escalating numbers of the homeless, the concerns of safety as a result of the increase, and to provide support for those who are unable to do so for themselves. Although creating homeless shelters is only a temporary solution, it is nonetheless an essential step toward finding a permanent one.

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