Trouble in Paradise: Hawaii Declares State of Emergency to Battle Homelessness

The Aloha State is the latest to announce steps to combat the problem.
(Photo: Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images)
Oct 18, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

For vacationing tourists, Hawaii offers world-class hotels, sprawling beachside resorts, and high-rise penthouses overlooking the Pacific Ocean. But thanks to high rents and low wages, many of the Aloha State’s residents have been forced out into the streets, where they face a very different reality.

On Friday, Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed an emergency proclamation to address homelessness by directing state funding toward temporary shelters, extended contracts for homeless services, and programs that provide immediate housing.

Ahead of the proclamation, Ige set aside more than $1.3 million to aid 1,000 homeless people with statewide services and transitional housing throughout the next nine months, according to the governor’s website.

Hawaii is home to an estimated 7,620 homeless people, with about half living in shelters and half on the streets, according to a 2015 state report showing that while the homeless population has steadily increased in recent years, access to shelters has remained roughly the same.

“There’s still so much work to do. Hawaii has the highest rate of homelessness per capita among the 50 states, with an estimated 465 homeless individuals per 100,000,” Scott Morishige, the governor’s coordinator on homelessness, said in a statement. “This proclamation will expedite the state’s plans to help these individuals and families to more quickly transition to permanent housing,” he said.

The proclamation comes just a week after crews in the state’s captial of Honolulu finished demolishing one of the country’s largest homeless encampments, drawing criticism from human rights groups and homeless advocates alike. Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the City of Honolulu, alleging that it violated the U.S. Constitution when it destroyed personal property. After complaints from tourists, the Honolulu City Council also recently voted to expand an existing ban on homeless people sitting or lying on sidewalks.

“Using arrests to solve homelessness and destroying what little property a homeless individual has to survive is contrary to a fair and just community,” Dan Gluck, legal director at ACLU Hawaii, said in a statement. “All these policies do is set families back and make it harder for them to build productive lives.”

The issue of homelessness is a nationwide problem, and several cities have sought to address it recently with similar proposals. In the midst of a campaign to host the 2024 Olympics, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a state of emergency in September and said the city would devote at least $100 million every year to help house thousands of homeless people. Around the same time in Portland, Oregon, Mayor Charlie Hales said he planned to declare a housing emergency, but he has yet to make a financial commitment.