Economy

To Clear Waikiki For Tourists, Hawaii Gives 120 Homeless People A One-Way Ticket Out Of State

CREDIT: AP/Cathy Bussewitz

A homeless man sleeps near Waikiki Beach

Hawaii’s Institute for Human Services (IHS) is beginning a $1.3 million campaign to clear the homeless out of Waikiki, a big spot for tourists, after businesses have complained that the homeless are hurting tourism.

The majority of the money will be used for intensive outreach services to connect the homeless with shelter, employment, and medical services. IHS’s goal is to move 140 people into shelters or housing in the first year.

But it also plans to fly back to the mainland United States another 120 people, who will be identified through a vetting process it says is aimed at making sure they have a plan in place when they get there. “We found out that many [Waikiki homeless] are transient who made a choice to become homeless, as well as people who became homeless shortly after arriving in Hawaii,” said Kimo Carvalho, development and community relations manager for IHS.

Last year, state lawmakers passed $100,000 in funding to give Hawaii’s homeless population one-way flights out of the state back to the mainland. But Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) refused to release the funding amid concerns that people would fly to the state and expect a free ticket home.

IHS will spend $824,000 of its own funding on the initiative. It’s already gotten $100,000 from the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association and is looking to raise $400,000 more from the private sector.

Another portion of the money will be used for a public relations campaign to discourage the homeless on the mainland from moving to Hawaii by counteracting the state’s supposed image as an ideal place to go. Part will be geared toward refuting online blogs and forums that IHS says encourage the homeless to move to the state, while another part will target the media to get out the word of things like the ban on sitting and lying on sidewalks in Waikiki. “We are trying to do an aggressive public relations effort, trying to water down misinformation, basically not making Hawaii be an attractive destination to come and be homeless,” Carvalho said. He declined to tell the Honolulu Civil Beat how much the department plans to spend on the PR campaign.

Hawaii has become more inhospitable for its homeless population, which numbers just under 7,000. Besides its earlier campaign to give the homeless a one-way plane ticket, which opponents worry could be used to coerce the homeless to leave rather than it being a voluntary move, the mayor of Honolulu has proposed what he calls “compassionate disruption” to clear the homeless from his city. The city, which has the largest homeless population of the country’s smaller cities at 4,712 people, is considering a ban on sitting or lying down on sidewalk and one prohibiting public urination or defecation. It also spends $500,000 a year on seizing homeless people’s property and conducting sweeps to arrest them on charges like park rule violations.

Hostility from state lawmakers has gotten even more overt than that, though. State Rep. Tom Brower (D) bragged to local news last year that out of being “disgusted” with homeless people, he went around with a sledgehammer destroying homeless people’s possessions and waking them up and telling them to get moving. He agreed to stop the practice after the story went national.

Instead of spending so much money and effort on trying to drive the homeless out, the state could take a different approach and invest those funds in affordable housing. Many cities and states have found that it’s far, far cheaper to put a homeless person in an apartment than to let him stay on the street. The country as a whole could wipe out homelessness altogether by creating affordable housing and giving out adequate rental assistance vouchers.