By Elizabeth K. Samarripa
Instructor Danny Wyatt
Leeward Community College-Wai’anae
[Note from the instructor: Click here for details re the assignment. -Danny Wyatt]
Homelessness did not become a recognized “social problem” in America until it started really getting noticed during the 1970’s. After the Vietnam War, as it is after most wars, some unfortunates were unable to cope with their war time experiences and had difficulties adjusting back into civilian life. Two other factors also contributed to homelessness becoming a wide spread problem in mainland America, and here in the Hawaiian Islands. Around the mid 1970’s, cities began to grow and the cheap housing called single room occupancies (SRO’s) began to disappear as parking lots, commercial buildings and apartment buildings began taking their place.
Then came the 1980’s, and the recession, President Regan made drastic cuts to public housing in an effort to balance the budget. President Regan proposed budget cuts in almost every department of government. Cuts in social programs, including school-lunch programs and payments for people with disabilities were also made, but President Reagan declined to make cuts that would affect Social Security and Medicare (“1982 Recession”).
With the budget cuts, hurting the already poor badly and as a result of the public housing cuts, women and children started to be included in the homeless category. By 1982, America was experiencing the worst recession since the “Great Depression”. Thousands of businesses failed, farmers lost their lands, and many sick, elderly, and poor were left without a home (“1982 Recession”). By the 1900’s, homelessness had grown out of control, and its numbers were increasing daily. Now here it is 2013, it is time for the government to finally take serious action to rid the country of this “social problem” that has lingered on for over three decades.
Looking at the causes of homelessness and the people that have become victims of homelessness, it is clear to see that almost anyone can fall victim to this issue. It can certainly be seen that homelessness is not a choice that is made by these people; homelessness in most all cases is a result of people being affected by a mix of circumstances that are beyond their control. As far as the demographics of the people that are homeless goes, there is no one single category that applies; homelessness affects any race, sex or nationality. In Hawaii, the statistics are somewhat out of the norm according to a 2009 statistical report on “The Homeless in Hawaii” by Hawaii H.O.M.E. Project, 37% of the homeless were of Hawaiian ancestry (“Hawaii Home Project”). Another study conducted in 2011by Hope Services Hawaii, reports 32% being of Hawaiian ancestry (“Hope Services Hawaii”). Based on those figures, it is safe to assume that approximately 40% of the 2013 homeless are of Hawaiian ancestry.
There is no doubt that homelessness can be looked at a major problem that is facing America today. It is very disheartening to see so many homeless living on the streets, under overpasses, and on secluded beach sites. These places are without basic life necessities that are often taken for granted, such as lights, water, and toilets. These are people from all walks of life, veterans, the very young and the very old who go from day to day without having enough to eat. These are the facts, so at this point the next thing to do is to address this dire situation that is real crisis which is affecting not only the homeless, but all of society.
Because homelessness affects a wide range of the people who are included in these numbers, the first topic that was researched was the statistical data that gives insight as to the demographic breakdown of who the homeless are, and also how large their numbers are. There are some real concerns as to the tracking of these numbers as reported in the Star Advertiser. This year’s annual count of Oahu’s “street” homeless, underestimates numbers by as much as 60 percent, according to a new study. A new report is offering suggestions for how the state can use the more comprehensive online database to improve the count results. More accurate counts will help politicians and policymakers make better decisions that affect the homeless. According to the University of Hawaii’s latest Homeless Services Utilization report nearly 14,000 people sought some form of homeless services across the state from July 2011 to June 2012. The state reports that based on the 01/22/2013 point-in-time count, the number of Oahu homeless living on streets instead of in shelters rose 11 percent over last year (“Homeless 1-day).
The second research topic covers the circumstances that lead to homelessness. Two causes that come to mind right away are the shortage of available housing, and the ever increasing cost of living, since gasoline, electricity bills, and water bills just keep getting higher without increases in income. This is a very important issue because herein actually lies some of the answers as to what can be done to improve this dreadful situation. There is another important element to the core problem of homelessness becoming such a fast growing societal problem and that has been the widespread loss of jobs. Large-scale downsizing in many different businesses across the nation has caused major foreclosures resulting in thousands of families being evicted and left homeless.
The third and final topic research topic covers the solutions that can help end homelessness. A very positive result of doing this research is that it will not only help to take these people off of living on the streets, under the freeway, and on secluded beaches; it will also result in improving their quality of life. One of those ways is a very important factor is the overall improvement of health for the homeless.
Since 1972, studies of the health status of homeless persons have appeared with increasing frequency in the medical literature. This has been because of the growing homeless population and because of the increased involvement by the health professionals. Homeless persons are known to be among the unhealthiest members of our society: Their populations include disproportionately large numbers of drug abusers and severely mentally ill individuals. They also have high incidence rates of acute illness, trauma, and death. The homeless also use emergency rooms regularly and have high rates of hospitalization. These cases of inpatient care are often for neglected illnesses that could have been prevented or treated in walk-in settings. This pattern of health care use is inherently costly and places disproportionate demands on limited community health care resources (Martell, et al). The result of getting the homeless into permanent housing will be an overall win-win situation, because it will provide a much healthier environment for them. That environment in turn should result in health improvements for these individuals and that will help to reduce the work load of health care facilities.
According to Hawaii Interagency Council, the pertinent statistical data which applies to the homeless in Hawaii is:
It is reported that each year, an estimated 14,000 people experience homelessness in Hawaii. On any given night, more than 6,000 people are homeless, having to spend their nights on the streets, under over-passes and at secluded beach sites. Most of them have to do without facilities that provide water for drinking and washing, and without toilets. An estimated 20% of those who are experiencing homelessness suffer from mental illness these poor individuals can be seen in various places around the city, walking around filthy and talking to themselves, they are often victims of assault or become violent and assault someone. An estimated 14% of adults who are living on the streets have jobs, but their income does not provide for the basic necessities of life such as shelter and food, many of them live in their cars. Approximately 26% of those experiencing homelessness in the Aloha State are considered chronically homeless (“Plan to End Homelessness in Hawaii”).
In the article by Robert Johnson, The Other Side of Paradise: Inside Hawaii’s Giant Homeless Community he takes an in depth look at the places the homeless live and provides some very powerful photographs showing vivid shots of how the homeless in Hawaii live. He reports that Hawaii has the third-largest homeless population per capita in the country. Hawaii has the 4th highest rental costs in the country. More than 7,500 people live on Oahu’s streets and beaches, a large number of them are native Hawaiians (“Johnson”). Johnson continues his report revealing that the native communities in Hawaii are often the poorest and border toxic landfills, chemical research facilities and pesticide test crops. Waianae, Oahu’s largest native community has more homeless than anywhere else in the state (“Johnson”).
The second topic covers the circumstances that led to people becoming homelessness. One of the first topics that came up as to what caused homelessness to become a major problem is the fact that in 1980, President Ronald Regan severely cut funding for social services which housed, medicated, counseled, and/or rehabilitated drug addicts, alcoholics, and the mentally ill. That resulted in thousands of such individuals being poured out into the streets without having the ability to provide for themselves. These people all became the homeless population in cities all across the nation including Hawaii (“When did homelessness first become a problem in dc?”).
Many of the causes for homelessness are a single problem, such as an eviction, heart attack or loss of employment. Experts fear that with Hawaii having the highest rents in the nation and with wages and benefits not keeping up with inflation that it could lead to more families losing their homes. That often leads to residents not buying homes when the buying is good. In addition to that, policymakers are not accommodating adequate housing construction when they can and should. The result of all of this is that homelessness has now become one of Hawaii’s most pressing social issues (Hoover).
Another of the main causes of homelessness in Hawaii is a shortage of available housing. This scarcity allows sellers to increase homes prices, which results in residents being unable to afford a place to live. Also many people’s income are unable to keep up with the rising costs of homes (Aoki). The increase in the standard of living such as skyrocketing property taxes, food, gasoline, and healthcare costs all also play a huge factor on why people become homeless (Agbayani).
The third and final topic covers creating solutions that can be applied to hopefully bring about an end to homelessness. A very informative article by Tierney Morikawa, “What can be done about the issue, and what is being done about the issue?” covers in detail an action plan that was specifically created to end homelessness in the state. The plan was directed by then Governor Linda Lingle, and publicly released by the Hawaii State Legislature in 2005. The title of the action plan is the “Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness in Hawaii” and consists of six goals that the government intends to carry out. The six plans are to;
1. Improve research and data collection on the homeless in order to develop more ways to obtain money for them. 2. Provide job training, affordable childcare and improve transportation services to Hawaii’s homeless in order to reduce barriers to obtaining housing.
3. Provide access to affordable and decent housing by researching gaps in the housing system and also create, renovate, repair and safeguard existing housing facilities. 4. Establish a rental insurance program and provide outreach programs to victims of domestic violence in order to prevent individuals and families from becoming homeless. 5. Provide homeless people experiencing health and addiction disabilities with appropriate support services and a variety of treatment options. 6. Work with Hawaii’s people to make wise economic decisions regarding the homelessness problem and create collaborative partnerships to educate the community about the issues and end homelessness (Morikawa).
Each and every single one of these ideas certainly seems to be reasonable and able to make a positive change in the homeless education. Of course, as always, the question of where the funding will come from to complete these wonderful ideas will always continue to resurface.
Morikawa also offers other suggestions that can have an impact on improving the troubles of these unfortunate individuals that have become victims of this terrible situation. The suggestions he makes are directed at single individuals that could hold the power to make a positive contribution towards helping improve a homeless person’s circumstance. Morikawa suggests that, should anyone want to offer assistance to the homeless, that they start at making basic level donations. Monetary gifts are also helpful but other donations such as food, blankets, sheets, towels, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and soap can always be used at any of the homeless shelters across the island. Many organizations that support the homeless and housing projects can benefit from volunteers in the field of education or even from high school students. There are only a few organizations, like the Institute for Human Services, that arrange for the tutoring of homeless children by high school students. If the government designates a few shelters to set up more volunteer tutoring programs, homeless children’s education could be enhanced. As for the adult situation, basic education programs need to be established throughout the shelters’ system so that these people could get the necessary education to attain adequate employment and become self-sufficient. High school students and other adult volunteers could help in the education programs by serving as educators. Lastly, another very worthwhile effort that could be made by a single individual is to simply ask the community organization to which they belong, to conduct fundraising events that can be very successful and profitable (Morikawa).
Conducting a private fundraising avoids much of the red tape required when it is done by a government organization. There is no requirement for having to account for the source of funds used to conduct a private fundraiser. Those funds mainly all come from private individuals who make monetary and personal time contributions to conduct the fundraiser.
In addition to those innovative ideas to help the homeless, the following article appeared in the Star Advertiser on May 9, 2013, “Mayor Offers Plan for Homelessness Problem”. The article states that Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell presented the City Council a draft of a plan on how to deal with the homelessness problem that has been affecting the island of Oahu. According to the Caldwell administration’s plan, Honolulu will follow the New York City concept of “housing first” that initially provides permanent shelter to the homeless. Other issues such as mental illness, drug abuse, and joblessness that affect many of the homeless will be addressed after permanent shelter has been found. The city’s executive director on housing, Jun Yang, stated, “Many times treatment can actually be the barrier that stops a homeless person from getting into housing. Re-housing should be the central goal of working with our homeless”. According to a recent study, there are a total of 4,556 people on Oahu who are defined as homeless. Out of these, 1,465 are “un-sheltered homeless” and 505 of them are considered to be “chronic homeless” (“Hawaii Realestate”). Of course, the main question being asked is the usual, where is the funding to provide the permanent shelters going to come from. Currently, there are no funds set aside in the mayor’s 2014 budget for this plan. If the city would sell some of their affordable housing projects to a private developer, it is possible some of those proceeds could be used for this project. On a positive note, at least plans are being made to make a change.
There is one thing that must be acknowledged, and that is that ever since the beginning of time there has always been a problem of homelessness in society, so it is very likely that no matter how much is done to rid ourselves of this problem, it is always going to exist.
The fact is that homelessness is much like a virus; it spreads itself across all racial, ethnic, and cultural categories, and has the ability to infect anyone at any time. With so many thousands of people living in poverty in Hawaii, the problem of homelessness has the potential to get worse and spread unless everything possible is done to inoculate, prevent and eradicate this virus where ever it exists. It is becoming very common to see many people here in Hawaii doing without daily basic life needs, there are many people who would say that a day like that is not out of the ordinary. Shelter, clothes, food, and education are basic life needs that every person deserves, yet people usually take for granted. Those basic life needs are what many of the homelessness are doing without and this creates a very serious problem in our society that is just shameless it just should not be that way. It is wrong that in this rich nation, every night thousands of people including many children have to sleep on the streets. The sad part is that there are many people that consider this type of behavior as deviant because it does not reflect the norms and values of our society. Sadly in many cases, homeless people are treated as total outsiders. In many cases, some of these people suffer from severe mental disorders while others are merely victims of an economy that has bailed out on them. It is a real shame to see so many having to suffer these indignities and it is a hard reality to accept that such situations exist in such a rich nation. The bottom line is the government and private individuals need to work together to get the money to create programs to help these unfortunates and put end this terrible disease called “homelessness” .
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Aoki, Traci. “Summer Economics/ CS 2006: Current Situation of Homelessness.” Summer Economics/ CS 2006. Summer Economics/ CS 2006. Web. 4 Nov 2013.
“Hawaii Home Project.” hawaiihomeproject.org. Hawaii H.O.M.E. Project, 02 Jun 2009. Web.
“Hawaii Real Estate and Economy: Homeless Situation – Mayor.” hawaiirealestateandeconomy.blogspot.com. Hawaii Real Estate and Economy, 09 May 2013. Web. 7 Nov. 2013.
“Homeless 1-day tally is too low, study says.” Star Advertiser [Honolulu] 06 Oct 2013, n. page. Print.
“Hope Services Hawaii.” http://www.hopeserviceshawaii.org. HOPE Services Hawaii Inc. Web. 1 Nov 2013.
Hoover, Will. “Three paychecks away from homelessness.” Star Advertiser [Honolulu] 16 Feb 2007, n. page. Print.
Johnson, Robert. “The Other Side of Paradise: Inside Hawaii’s Giant Homeless Community” http://www.businessinsider.com. Business Insider, 02 Aug 2013. Web. 26 Oct 2013.
Martell, Jon V., et al. “Hospitalization in an Urban Homeless Population: The Honolulu Urban Homeless Project.” Annals of Internal Medicine 116.4 (1992): 299. Academic Search Premier. Web. 30 Oct. 2013.
Morikawa, Tierney. “Summer Economics/ CS 2006: Homelessness in Hawaii.” iws.punahou.edu/. Summer Economics/ CS 2006. Web. 4 Nov 2013.
“Plan to End Homelessness in Hawaii.” http://www.hawaiihomeless.org/Home. Hawaii Interagency Council, DD Sep 2008. Web. 26 Oct 2013.
“The 1982 Recession.” http://www.pbs.org. Public Broadcast System. Web. 1 Nov 2013.
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