Solving Homelessness the Compassionate Way

The affordable housing and homeless crisis had become an unresolved and growing festering sore in Hawaii already before the Covid-19 pandemic and will likely explode further as rent subsidies and employment for the most in need dries up further. While it was hoped that people would become more compassionate during the pandemic, we seem to be back to old norms. Proposed short-term gap-measures or even long-term solutions proposed, whether in Kailua, Kaka`ako, Waikiki, or anywhere else, are often met with the old outcry “Not IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD” by often misguided local community activists.

So, in Waimanalo, a group of dedicated out-of-the box thinking persons started to construct a village for local homeless on DLNR land that they hoped to lease, gathering the most in-need and sick living along the highway in tents at Waimanalo Beach Park and surrounding bushes everywhere inclusive of “Sherwood Forest.” Unfortunately, their limited village site is located in a flood and tsunami evacuation zone whose issues, among other concerns, have not been resolved (Map 2 Red X).

But why did it have to come to that? Well, the price of Real Estate along with Real Estate speculation, as largely seen throughout Hawaii, increased astronomically over the last 15 years with the seemingly sole focus on the Tourist Industry, so that even just a simple three-bedroom home cannot be purchased under $700,000 even in Waimanalo. With no “Living Wage” in sight for Hawaii, which totally depends on the Tourist and Military Industry with attractive but high-priced homes largely built for overseas investors, people failing to pay the rent will end up on the streets. And once on the street, how long will it take for one to physically and mentally deteriorate? So, the solution for many was to either move to the Big Island or leave Hawaii while they still had coins in their pockets, or become homeless.

Yes, there are solutions but we have to think fast, “Out of the Box” and act quickly. One such solution to solve the homeless crisis in Waimanalo lies on our doorstep. The City and County of Hawaii owns a 75-acre parcel along Highway 72 (Kalanianaole Hwy) that stretches to the beach. With the cooperation of State and County agencies, an affordable housing center/village could be readily established here that would solve the local affordable housing and homes crisis as it is also not located in a 100 year flood zone (Map 2 Blue outline). People forced to temporarily live in tsunami evacuation zones, hiding in Sherwood Forest, in bushes everywhere, clinging on to their tents along the State Highway out of the “forbidden Zone” of the City and County of Honolulu-owned Waimanalo Beach Park, could then perhaps again live and die as human being unless the community wants to deny these people to live near and enjoy the beach. Do we all care? We will see. And we must remember that they are not only former Waimanalo residents. They have also congregated here from throughout the island and are forced to hide while the Tourist Industry is trying to further expand its footprint here. Enacting more laws to force them “out of sight” of the tourists is not a humane solution.

While the Waimanalo solution cannot be applied so easily everywhere else, we must acknowledge that the stumbling blocks are us. Political rhetoric instead of moral leadership, especially at election time, resolves nothing and just makes the long-term situation worse. If we open up our minds and hearts, we can not only stem but eradicate the homeless crisis that we ourselves have largely created with our “Out of Sight and Not in Our Neighborhood” rational.

Photo 1- The temporary Waimanalo Homeless Village on DLNR land established by caring local residents.
Map 1 – 74.76 acres unencumbered City and County of Honolulu parcel in Waimanalo
Map 2 – Waimanalo Drainage Map – The City & County Parcel is shown in blue (located beach side of the Polo Club) and the present Waimanalo Homeless Village site is marked with a red X.