the highest houseless rate, per capita, in the nation requires a committed, robust response.
Houselessness in Hawaiʻi has grown in recent years, leaving the state with 487 homeless per 100,000 people, the nation's highest rate per capita, followed by New York and Nevada, according to federal statistics. Since 2010, the rise has come even as the national rate has fallen during the economic recovery.
The increase, driven by years of rising costs in the island chain, low wages and limited land, has thrust the issue to the forefront of a statewide discussion on how best to help one of the most vulnerable segments of our population. In the past, state and city officials have tried, unsuccessfully, to address the problem through a combinations of houseless services (such as Housing First), "compassionate disruption" policies (raids on houseless encampments which include unconstitutional search and seizures), "nuisance laws" (banning sitting and lying on sidewalks in tourist districts) and proposed alternative low-cost, temporary housing options such as shipping containers. But these policies do little to solve the underlying causes of houselessness mentioned above (and some of them have made the problem worse).
Gov. David Ige's declaration of a state of emergency on homelessness in October of 2015 has underscored the depth of the crisis. While there are shelters and programs to help the homeless, there are far fewer empty beds than are needed — about 550 on any given night on Oahu, where an estimated 4,900 of the 7,620 homeless people live, according to service providers (this is an extremely conservative estimate based on point-in-time counts which miss many of the existing houseless in Honolulu). The state needs 27,000 affordable rental units by 2020, but lawmakers set aside enough money for just 800 units in 2015.
Maintaining the existing public housing could cost $800 million over the next decade, according to state estimates. Statewide there are roughly 10,000 people currently waiting to get into state-run public housing, most of which will be waiting for an average of five years. The waiting list for Section 8 rent assistance in private housing was so long, officials actually closed the list for about a decade.
The state's population of unsheltered families ballooned 46 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to Scott Morishige, state coordinator on houselessness. It's time the state invested in a comprehensive suite of programs designed to provide assistance to chronically houseless individuals with mental health and drug abuse problems, to rapidly expand the number of affordable housing units available through intelligent, vertical development and a severe limiting of new luxury developments that worsen the housing crisis, to amend the definition of "affordable housing" to make the term genuine, to expand housing first programs for houseless families and to ban part-time vacation rentals and tax wealthy, "part-time" residents and luxury developments over a certain threshold to help pay for these services.
Additional economic measures such as the Hawaiʻi Tax Fairness initiative and an increase in the minimum wage will also contribute to addressing many of the underlying economic issues that are causing
2017 Bills We Support
HB 1572: Establishes the Hawaiʻi Economic Security Working Group within DBEDT to analyze and make recommendations regarding economic health and stability in light of future automation, globalization, and disruptive innovation. Testify on this measure.
HB 1281: Establishes a three-year Work-for-a-Day Pilot Program that provides homeless individuals with work opportunities and connects them with service providers. Appropriates funds. Testify on this measure.