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  • Writer's pictureSoren Miles Fesel

Homelessness in Hawaii: An Extensive Crisis

Homelessness has continued to be a systemic and extensive issue in Hawaii. The state has an incredibly high homelessness rate of 435 homeless individuals per 100,000 people. This rate is the second highest in the nation, succeeded only by New York. In total, there are approximately 6,460 documented homeless individuals statewide, a high sum compared to the national average.

What fits the criteria of Homeless?

Homelessness is typically defined as a lack of permanent, sustainable housing. Given this definition’s vagueness, homelessness varies broadly.

There is still a common misconception that all homeless people are living out on the streets constantly. However, this view is far from the truth. While a more dire situation for homeless people might mean constant life on the streets, a more silent form of homelessness often goes unnoticed and unaddressed.

Many people who technically fit the criteria for being homeless are simply ordinary people who sleep in their car, couch surf, stay in friends’ homes, or are only periodically without a roof over their head.

This type of homelessness is still very real and very damaging to those affected, but tends to blend in and go unnoticed in official reports of the severity of homelessness. We need to have a nuanced view of what this issue actually is, and who is affected by it.

What are the causes of homelessness in Hawaii?

For such a complex, multi-faceted issue that affects so many people today, a singular primary cause of homelessness cannot be distinguished. In reality, many different complicated factors interplay with one another and contribute to someone becoming homeless.

There are still nonetheless some more major, overarching factors that may combine to cause homelessness.

Chief among them, especially in the state of Hawaii, is mental illness. Many individuals in Hawaii are shut out of economic opportunity and employment because of mental illness. Up to one third of homeless people in Oahu report some form of mental illness, according to Honolulu Civil Beat. Specific diseases include bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, both of which are incredibly debilitating.

Unfortunately, due to a lack of psychiatric resources and social security, people who develop these illnesses frequently do not receive adequate access to proper help.

Another major factor in causing homelessness is poverty in general, but especially generation poverty. People born into a poor family, or people who become poor later in life due to debts or other related factors are at a significantly higher risk of homelessness. This reality makes sense, as people with less money to begin with will have less economic opportunities, fewer educational opportunities, and will be hit harder by the continuously rising cost of living.

The skyhigh cost of living in Hawaii is undoubtedly another massive contributing factor. Many people are barely able to afford rent with a decent job in our state; now pair this unbearably high cost of living with poverty, a lack of social security, and a possible mental illness, and it becomes disturbingly clear how so many people can wind up on the streets.

What are the possible solutions to homelessness?

Luckily, although homelessness is still a hard-to-solve issue, there are nonetheless many different options and policies we can introduce to reduce it.

Providing people with free, cheap housing is a clear and not too costly solution to the homelessness problem. Different countries throughout the world such as Finland have seen positive results with this strategy, according to The Guardian.

Even if you view free housing from a purely economic standpoint, it might still be beneficial because you are increasing a person’s chance to get their life back on track and become economically productive members of society again. If you continue to have people living out on the streets, barely surviving, they likely will not contribute to the economy much.

Another avenue of combating this issue is to target the root causes of homelessness by improving education resources, improving psychiatric accessibility, and somehow reducing overall poverty.

A mix of both damage control and targeting the root causes of homelessness will yield the best results, as demonstrated by the policies of many developed nations like Japan, Canada, Singapore, and Finland, according to Kxan, which performed a comprehensive analysis of these nations policies in 2021.

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