After Destroying Homeless Camps, Hawaii Declares State Of Emergency On Homelessness

CREDIT: AP Photo/Cathy Bussewitz

Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D)

On Friday, Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) signed an emergency proclamation on the state of its homeless population.

The proclamation will speed up construction of a temporary homeless shelter, extend existing contracts for homeless services, and increase funding for housing first programs that aim to move people into a home and then address any other issues they may have. It comes with more than $1.3 million in funding for services and permanent housing.

“It is still a state of emergency when you consider there are thousands of people in our community who continue to be homeless,” Ige said at a news conference. There were nearly 5,000 homeless people in a state of 1.4 million at latest count, just under 2,000 of them unsheltered.

The state has come under scrutiny, however, for often dealing with its burgeoning homeless population by simply cracking down on those who are on the streets or clearing them out. In a press release announcing the state of emergency, Ige cited enforcement in the Kaka’ako Makai area, near Honolulu, and said, “We plan to replicate the Kaka’ako model as we work to address homelessness in communities across the state.” But that city has repeatedly raided its homeless camps, forcing people out and throwing out their belongings.

The American Civil Liberties Union had sued the city in an attempt to stop the sweeps, arguing that by seizing and destroying property, the city is violating homeless people’s due process rights. But a judge denied its request for a temporary restraining order, and the actions had moved forward.

While buses were offered to bring people to shelters, most did not take that option and simply moved elsewhere. The city says, however, that it has moved 152 people into shelters or permanent housing since August.

Many other places across the country have responded to increases in their homeless populations through similar tactics that simply criminalize them. But such efforts have been found to be costly without actually solving the root problem. Housing the homeless, on the other hand, comes with significant savings.

States of emergency were recently announced in two other places facing large homeless populations: Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. In both of those cities, the declarations mean increased funding for housing subsidies and shelters as well as easing the way for building more affordable housing. Neither will focus on cracking down on the homeless.