Is Hawaii the dumping ground for mainland homeless?

Councilmember Stanley Chang of Honolulu confers with policeman in Waikiki about homelessness

Councilmember Stanley Chang of Honolulu confers with policeman in Waikiki about homelessness

Recently the Honolulu Star Advertiser had a series of articles discussing the plight of the homeless in Hawaii.  A number of the homeless who were interviewed admitted to moving to Hawaii because of an interest in avoiding cold winters, as the prospect of living in a tent in Hawaii outweighed the thought of living on some city street in chilly weather.  Has Hawaii become the dumping ground for mainland homeless?

The numbers of homeless have increased in Hawaii over the years.  These people include families who can no longer pay the high rents in Hawaii, men and women who have lost jobs, people with mental health issues and mainland transplants who bought one-way tickets to paradise without the prospect of work or a place to live.

A recent sweep of an area in Honolulu called Kakaako, alongside a daycare center and near upscale condos found folk who had come from the mainland to find the easy life away from the mainland cold and near the ocean’s enticements.  But local people have been concerned about the growing numbers of these people who do not know island culture and end up using Hawaii’s social service and special programs designed to help the poor.

Many local people who have asked homeless people how they came to live in Hawaii are told that some agency on the mainland bought them a one-way ticket in the hopes of reducing the population of those in need of housing by shifting the problem to Hawaii.  Yet state agencies have neither the funds nor the authority to provide money to send people to Hawaii simply to avoid the problem of homelessness in their respective states.  Instead, as interviews have indicated, people arrive with no job, nowhere to live and no means of support, hoping instead to live off the dole in a place where it is less likely to track whatever problems may have led them to Hawaii, especially those whose on-the-street living has been recent and residency but a few weeks or months.  Long time residents who have lived in Hawaii for years may fall on the same hard times as local citizens, however it is often those who have recently arrived that are resented for their imposition on a State that is welcoming and kind but that has limited resources for an unlimited number of people seeking respite who have no known resources to help themselves.

A random survey near the bus stop adjacent to the boat harbor, where some of the homeless catch buses to travel into town, found many of the few hundred who live in the bushes hail from somewhere other than Hawaii.  One man named Gary, a gaunt fellow with few teeth, yet a smile that beamed broadly with delight when interviewed, albeit briefly, said he was one of those who had come to Hawaii less than six months ago as he thought it would be better to arrive soon before the cold weather developed in the Midwest.  Were there many like this, he was asked.  “Oh yes, ma’am,” he said.  “I’ve met a bunch of people like me after I got here.  In fact people talk about it and thought I was lucky to have enough money to get here in the first place.”  And was he looking for work?  “Why work,” he laughed, “You can have an easy life and not have to work since you can live outdoors all year round.  And we can get free food right around the corner.”

Waianae has its share of homeless, but many of the people who live in tents, cardboard boxes, under bridges and overpasses, and in the doorways of businesses that have shuttered for the night are in the City of Honolulu.  And despite the concerns expressed by local people that mainland individuals are abusing Hawaii’s good heart and conscience and using resources needed for social service programs to aid the State’s already burgeoning population of those without homes, they continue to come to Hawaii.

The myth that agencies and state governments on the mainland are searching for ways to solve the problems of homelessness by buying one-way tickets for people who live on the streets to move to Hawaii continues to be fueled by the anger individuals feel that their beloved lands are being used as a dumping ground for the problems on the mainland.

What’s the solution to the crisis caused by people coming to Hawaii to live who have no intention of working or contributing to the economy?  Some suggest that a questionnaire of the type completed by visitors to prevent bringing in items that are toxic to Hawaii’s fragile environment such as reptiles and certain plants to determine who has the one-way ticket and no employer contact no recent work history to support getting a job.  Perhaps that is the method that could help reduce the problem of homelessness in Hawaii by removing at least one segment of the population to return to their more familiar areas where social service agencies and the various states can deal appropriately with those who know them best.

One of the people interviewed by the Star-Advertiser, Robert Wade, whose wife bought him a one-way ticket to Hawaii with no money, no job and no place to live, said this, “If you think this is paradise, it’s not,” Wade said. “Paradise is having a nic ehome and a family. Don’t go anywhere if you’re homeless and don’t have plan.”

It’s good advice for those thinking about the cold winters and living in Hawaii, as it turns out not to be a good idea when faced with the problems that can develop and the resentment of local people as well.


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