In Hawaii, the tourist industry is more important than homelessness

Just as it is across the United States, homelessness is a problem in Hawaii:

In the 2014 “State of Homelessness in America” report, Hawaii ranked highest among the 50 states for homeless people per capita. A recent state-sponsored tally found there were more than 4,700 homeless on Oahu, with at least 2,200 on neighboring islands — figures that most advocates agree underreport the true total. With Honolulu’s business interests and residents frustrated by Oahu’s growing homeless population, the city has introduced three laws aimed at clearing city streets and parks.

“Clearing the streets and parks”? That sounds like a euphemism for “get rid of homeless people”, which is an attitude shared by Tampa, FL and Columbia, SC.  These cities each share the same attitude, and it’s one of apathy and callousness aimed at the homeless.

On Sept. 16, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell signed three bills that make it a misdemeanor (punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a maximum $1,000 fine) to sit or lie on sidewalks in the bustling tourist district of Waikiki and outlaw relieving oneself in public islandwide.

I guess Hawaii’s homeless are of very little concern in the face of tourist concerns.  ::Spits::  For homeless people, who often have nowhere to go, what exactly are they supposed to do? They can’t pee or shit outside, but there aren’t enough public bathrooms for them to use.  They can’t sit or lie on sidewalks, so where are they supposed to lie down or sit at? This has all the hallmarks of trying to push the homeless somewhere else, anywhere else that is out of the public eye so that tourists don’t have to see them.  As if people who are suffering are some sort of eyesore.  What’s a fucking eyesore is reading about government officials treating homeless people like shit. They’re basically telling homeless people they don’t want them existing.

Homeless advocates say the new laws unfairly target Hawaii’s most vulnerable residents, especially since Waikiki has only one 24-hour public restroom in the crowded district.

Well there’s the answer to the bathroom problem.  Not the answer I wanted to hear though.

Sherry Menor-McNamara, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, said that while the new laws aren’t a perfect solution, they’re “a step in the right direction” that will improve traffic to Waikiki’s shops.

She said her organization has been receiving phone calls from visitors expressing concerns about the growing number of homeless people in Honolulu. “We’ve heard from some [visitors] that they wouldn’t want to return to Hawaii because it’s gotten worse,” she said.

Well then, if tourism is such a big deal to you, then perhaps you ought to find a way to reduce homelessness. Not shift people around and hide them from tourists.  Hey, I have an idea! Why not take a leaf out of Utah’s book:

In eight years, Utah has quietly reduced homelessness by 78 percent, and is on track to end homelessness by 2015.

How did Utah accomplish this? Simple. Utah solved homelessness by giving people homes. In 2005, Utah figured out that the annual cost of E.R. visits and jail stays for homeless people was about $16,670 per person, compared to $11,000 to provide each homeless person with an apartment and a social worker. So, the state began giving away apartments, with no strings attached. Each participant in Utah’s Housing First program also gets a caseworker to help them become self-sufficient, but they keep the apartment even if they fail. The program has been so successful that other states are hoping to achieve similar results with programs modeled on Utah’s.

It sounds like Utah borrowed a page from Homes Not Handcuffs, the 2009 report by The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and The National Coalition for the Homeless. Using a 2004 survey and anecdotal evidence from activists, the report concluded that permanent housing for the homeless is cheaper than criminalization. Housing is not only more human, it’s economical.

Imagine that-taking a look at the problem of homelessness and realizing it’s more expensive to jail homeless people or take them to the ER than it is to give them homes.  Further imagine how much less these people will suffer, and how the streets can look the way city governments want them to.  Of course, Hawaii doesn’t appear to want to use this solution. No, they have a better way:

The Caldwell administration plans to relocate a hundred “chronic homeless” who meet specific criteria to an industrial site called Sand Island as part of its “compassionate disruption” policy.

Critics blast the plan as an attempt to expel Honolulu’s most desperate population to an isolated, unsafe and uninhabitable location where they will be out of sight but no better off.

“I would argue it is much more incompassionate to leave people on the streets in place than to pick them up and take them to a shelter,” Honolulu City Council Member Ikaika Anderson said at a press conference.

Xian, however, called Sand Island a “de facto internment camp.”

The 173-acre island, composed mostly of dredged sediment and fill, was an actual internment camp used to detain U.S. citizens of Japanese descent and others during World War II. Before that, it was used to quarantine ship passengers.

In the 1970s Native Hawaiians established their own village on Sand Island but were evicted by the state for trespassing. More recently, it has served as a sewage treatment plant and solid waste disposal site. A 2000 EPA study reported parts of the island were contaminated with arsenic, lead, nickel, methylene chloride and possibly pesticides and PCBs. While concerns of remnant toxins persist, the city has proposed paving the homeless transition site with asphalt.

Caldwell’s office declined to provide comment for this story but in a news release wrote that Sand Island would offer a “safe, supportive environment and provide assessment services, stability and access to supportive services.”

Um, Caldwell, buddy, an area with arsenic, lead, nickel, and methylene chloride contamination is not a safe environment to house anyone in.  Would you live there?  Somehow I doubt it. That being the case, why would you relocate anyone there?  Why not follow in the footsteps of Utah?

In Hawaii, the tourist industry is more important than homelessness