By: Shirley David
On May 19 and 20, twenty people were moved from their encampments along Kuakini Highway in front of the Kailua Kona Aquatic Center into Hope Services emergency shelters. The encampments were the result of a sweep earlier in the month of those sleeping in the bushes at Kona’s Old Airport Park. During the intake process the outreach team learned that all twenty individuals were local residents from Hawai’i. Fourteen identified as Native Hawaiian, four as Caucasan, and two as African-American. Several had jobs. Most had lost their homes because the rent had become unaffordable, or as a result of family issues.
The annual Point-in-Time Count held in January gives us an even larger snapshot of who are the homeless and why they are living in places not meant for human habitation. One January 23 there were 843 individuals in emergency shelters or living unsheltered islandwide. Sixty-six families were in shelters and eighteen were unsheltered. The two most stated reasons (55%) that led to being unsheltered were conflicts with family or with housemates and inability to pay rent. Others told volunteers that they had lost their jobs, had a medical emergency in the family, or had a chronic disability. Some told volunteers they suffered from mental illness, had been incarcerated, or had substance addictions. One person shared that his house burned down. Another lost his land, another was saving money to buy land. For a few people living unsheltered was preferable to being housed in an unsafe living situation. When asked, '`Did you move to Hawai`i within the past year?’ 92% of those who responded said no.
Although the point-in-time count does not survey those who are sleeping on couches or in overcrowded housing, it’s important to consider them in conversations about housing policy. Many are on the precipice of losing their housing, and they live in circumstances that are harmful to their physical and mental health. The count does not survey those camping out or sleeping in their cars on private property with the owner’s permission. If asked, the reasons for their homelessness will most likely mirror the reasons given by the other unsheltered. The count does not include those living in unsafe situations such as youth addicted to drugs by predictors who use the internet to groom them for the sex trade. With each response there is a story. You don’t have to be homeless to know that housing prices are skyrocketing and inventory is at an all-time low. We all know people who moved away because their wages did not keep up with their rent or because their landlords sold the property and they could not find anything in their price range. We all have family members who struggle with addictions or have lost everything due to a catastrophic illness.
Moving homeless people off the streets, doorways and beaches only moves the problem around. In order to reduce homelessness, it is important for us to look at these documented reasons people are homeless. Then we can address each one of the reasons. There are no quick fixes. It takes perseverance, dedication, money, and political will. How can you help? You can help by supporting the efforts of our public officials who all know we do not have enough affordable housing and support services. You can help by insisting that our building code permit process is amended in a way that takes away roadblocks to affordable housing by lowering the cost of building. You can help by renting out your second homes long term if you are not using them. We all can help.
Over the past two years, Vibrant Hawaiʻi, a non-profit dedicated to multi-sector collaboration and partnership has formed and supported multi-sector working groups focused on community-led solutions to address complex issues affecting our community: Economy, Education, Health and Wellbeing, Resilience Hubs, and Housing. Vibrant Hawaiʻi’s mission is to empower the Hawaiʻi community by increasing equitable opportunities, shifting deficit narratives and systems, and implementing strategies that are developed and resourced by the community and reflect native intelligence. To learn more, visit www.vibranthawaii.org.