Getting rid of all those homeless people – A primer

An acquaintance grabbed my ear recently saying, “Gary, how can we get rid of all those homeless people?” He went on to bemoan the presence of the poor and unwashed that seem to be sleeping under every bridge and in every doorway.

For the most part, I just let him talk.

“Why can’t they get a job like everyone else? There are job openings everywhere. Why can’t they take a bath, get off the streets, and stop begging in front of the convenience store?”

“Why don’t we just arrest them all and fly them back to where they came from?” he complained. “You can’t go anywhere without seeing them. They are at the beach, by the airport, along the road to Kealia, across from the Mayor’s office-everywhere!”

He thanked me for my time and walked on, not really caring about what I thought.

Which is why I am here, writing this today.

The answer to getting rid of the houseless is to ensure we all have access to permanently affordable housing.

They are houseless, not homeless. Their home is on the streets. What they lack is a house.

Yes, certainly there are many other issues that include mental health and addiction. But it’s impossible to deal with these underlying issues effectively if the individual is living on the streets.

Kick them out? Tear down their tents and tell them to move on?

Kauai Economic Opportunity (KEO) operates the only emergency shelter on our island and has 165 people on its waiting list. All of the other shelters are also full.

There is literally no place for these folks to go.

As to “send them back to where they came from”…hello…according to recent counts of the houseless that are here, only 3% are newcomers. The vast majority are long-term or lifelong residents, and Native Hawaiians are overrepresented.

Arresting poor people who cannot afford a warm, dry, safe place to sleep and who have no other option but to sleep on the street, in a doorway or in the bushes is unconscionable – not to mention, extremely expensive.

Employers are hesitant to hire a houseless person who may come to the interview without a permanent mailing address and looking like they just woke up after sleeping all night in a doorway. It further reduces an applicant’s job prospects if they are missing teeth or have other health issues.

Even if they managed to get a job, it will of course not be paying a living wage. Even if they got two jobs, there are no affordable homes available. Period.

Whether freshly scrubbed, teeth or no teeth, good clothes or not – the challenge of finding an affordable home or even a room to rent is formidable – for everyone.

Yes, it’s complicated. No, it’s not complicated.

Ensuring access to affordable homes is the answer. Constructing new, permanently affordable units, AND prioritizing access to new and existing units for long-term local residents earning local wages.

If government funding is used and/or government assistance is utilized, the homes built can legally be required to be permanently affordable, and long-time residents can be given first priority to rent and/or purchase them.

There’s no shortage of vacant land located in existing urban areas that already has the basic infrastructure (sewer, roads, water) and located near job centers, shopping, schools, and health facilities. Private lands can be purchased at fair market value by the County or State, and/or landowners could be incentivized appropriately in return for providing permanent affordable housing for locals.

There are good things happening now at both the State and County levels, but much more is needed. The houseless situation and the extreme lack of affordable housing needs to be treated like the dire emergency it is.

About garyhooser

This blog represents my thoughts as an individual person and does not represent the official position of any organization I may be affiliated with. I presently serve as volunteer President of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (H.A.P.A.) I am the former Vice-Chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii. In another past life, I was an elected member of the Kauai County Council, a Hawaii State Senator, and Majority Leader, and the Director of Environmental Quality Control for the State of Hawaii - in an even earlier incarnation I was an entrepreneur and small business owner. Yes, I am one of the luckiest guys on the planet. Please visit my website AND sign up for my newsletter (unlike any email newsletter you have ever gotten, of that I am sure) - “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We’re afraid.” “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We will fall!” “Come to the edge.” And they came. And he pushed them. And they flew. - Christopher Logue (b.1926)
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31 Responses to Getting rid of all those homeless people – A primer

  1. Frank says:

    All quite true. Just don’t unestimate how bad our health care system is for people with mental and physical problems. Disabilty accessibly is little to nonexistent when it comes to houseless facilities. There’s disability that requires a higher level of medical care. Then add to that people with animal Ghana. Then add to that undocumented people. Then add to that people fleeing domestic violence.

  2. Jamie Belmarez says:

    I have been interested in this topic as a priority issue for some time. I live on Big Island and bought a home in March 2021 only because I had help of a friend who provided me a “bridge” loan.

    How can I get involved? I want to help.

    • garyhooser says:

      Thank you Jamie for reaching out and offering to help. I will send you an email and an introduction to good people on your island who are working on this issue.

  3. Christopher Rathbun says:

    Of course requiring employers to pay a living wage rather than using tax dollars to subsidize housing so they can underpay employees is a more logical solution, but you know that.

    Another option would be to relax building codes and eliminate zoning restrictions so houses could be built cheaply.

    • garyhooser says:

      Thank you Christopher for the comment. I think we need both a living wage AND we need permanent affordable housing that is built and/or subsidized by the government – and thus immune from the speculative nature of market forces. Without the “permanent” feature, the homes will just keep going up and be sold to the highest bidder, and if government $ is used this could be disallowed/prevented. My preference is to focus on “urban redevelopment” and avoiding the increasing sprawl and loss of open space and agricultural lands. Increased density on existing urban lands is I believe the path to be taken.

  4. Tony Allen says:

    Thank you Gary for this article on the homeless. It struck home as I have a friend, who is homeless and lives in her van. She wrote me the other day (she can’t afford a cellphone), that her van broke down, is now marked to be towed away today, and she was crying and fearful that tonight she’ll be out on the street. As you wrote, there is nothing available now for the homeless as all resources are filled to the brim with long waiting lists. What are we to tell her? It’s heartbreaking as, at present, there seems no where to turn to.

    Tony Allen

    • garyhooser says:

      Mahalo Tony for caring and for actively helping another human being navigate life. Yes, it is heartbreaking. Likewise, I have a friend who lives in his van but has no place to park it at night that is legal and safe. I’m thinking this is the least our policymakers could do at the moment…they could dedicate a safe place for people to park their cars and sleep at night. Not to camp and live full time perhaps but at least to sleep safely at night. I’m gonna push on this idea I think. The primary cost to the County and/or state would be security. It could be the parking lot by the stadium…or elsewhere.

      • Tony Allen says:

        Yes, this idea for a safe, legal Sleeping Park for Vans is a wonderful idea, and hope it finds friends in the legislature that will sponsor the bill and help push it through.

    • Bonnie morgan says:

      A someone help her get her van repaired ?

      • Tony Allen says:

        Hi Bonnie,

        No one has offered to get her van repaired. The county has put a tow tag on it for towing, and my friend called me crying, scared and in despair as she’ll be on the street if they haul her van away. If you know anyone that can help, my cell/text is (808) 651-5324.



  5. Amigo says:

    Hi Gary. When do we talk about the real problem, TOO many people!!!!! Why doesn’t anyone want to accept that fact. Control humans and save ourselves and maybe the planet. Simple.

    • garyhooser says:

      I disagree Amigo. While in general, overpopulation can be a huge stress on resources…the cost of housing is driven by demand and money. So long as we live in one of the nicest places on the planet…people of wealth and substance will want to come here…and live here. We live in a place of abundance, it is greed that screws it up.

    • IW says:

      Amigo has no brains and an uneducated ghetto

      • garyhooser says:

        While I agree in general, I ask that you refrain from name-calling and personal denigration. I’m trying to allow a diversity of opinion but it is a challenge….

  6. IN says:

    Homeless or houseless people predominantly have a contributing factor of MENTAL ILLNESS which may or may not be induced with illegal narcotics, but is the underlying issue.

    Since we live in a Democracy and NOT in a Communist state, There’s civil laws to protect all. I don’t like it anymore than u if u don’t understand this then u are not a educated person.

    To get medical or mental health services the individual has to want to get it. If not then we have what we have now. The shelters and medical services are out there as well. You can do sweeps which is one of a few costly measures to do.
    The SW do outreach and have who and where they are.

    Think and don’t be an idiot

    More to come

    • garyhooser says:

      I am only allowing your comment because it is a good bad example. THERE ARE NO SHELTERS. And there is limited mental health support available. The first and primary initial problem is THERE IS NO HOUSING THAT THESE FOLKS CAN BE “SWEPT” INTO. Please if you would like to continue making comments…do not call people, including myself, names.

      • IW says:

        U right in “sweeping” into shelters

        Sweeping in mass is NOT the intent and should NOT be the intent

        Even if there were shelters, if the homeless don’t want it then they won’t. Please confirm this. Again we live in a democracy and not in a communist state

      • garyhooser says:

        I’m pretty sure everyone wants a dry, safe, roof over their heads – preferably a real house but at the minimum a shelter. If I had to choose between living on the beach or in my car versus living in a shelter with many other people and no privacy and lots of rules…I would probably choose the beach or my car. There are no affordable real houses available, and no shelters either. Our government subsidizes banks, defense contractors, hospitals, and energy companies for starters – helping to provide affordable housing and medical care is not communism. Nor are social security, Medicare, or unemployment insurance, SNAP food benefits, public education and police and fire protection. These are all essential government services. FYI: Communism is when the people/workers own the means of production which is not the case in America. In America, the means of production is owned by the billionaire class.

      • IW says:

        Again u forget the rampant illegal drug use and yes not wanting to follow rules.
        Law enforcement is no help either
        Translation . Continued Houseless and homeless people

        Let me ask why no vangrancy laws?

      • garyhooser says:

        Vagrancy laws? You seriously want to lock up someone who is poor and does not have a legal, safe, place to live? Arrest poor people and put them in jail where it cost the government $165 per day to keep them locked up in a jail cell? Or arrest people who are poor, and without a home, and fine them heavily to teach them a lesson?

      • IW says:

        No, being poor and being poor and on illegal drugs are two different issues.
        Why are u not addressing the rampant illegal drug use associated with housekess or homeless individuals

      • garyhooser says:

        Drug addiction is a health problem and medical condition. It requires treatment. Effective treatment is hugely challenging when the person being treated has no address, no house, no regular personal hygiene, and no supportive social infrastructure. Access to affordable housing is the first step toward resolving the houseless issue. Mental health, addiction, etc etc…all of course contribute to the problem but these issues cannot effectively be dealt with so long as the person is living on the street in a doorway somewhere.

      • IW says:

        Well that’s the fundamental problem with your tunnel vision approach
        Simple building shelters WITHOUT considering other contributing factors is totally wrong and makes this blog useless
        U think u build and they will come? NO, There are rules to abide by in a shelter

  7. Bonnie morgan says:

    I agree Gary these people are houseless not homeless. Not only is this happening in Hawaii but all over the country I was on a recent visit to Los Angeles last May and they are everywhere. There was a whole line of campers on one street with people living in their campers. Our country is so broken. It just breaks my heart to see these people without a home. I feel blessed myself that I have a place to live and a good job. I read we are one of the few countries in the world that don’t take care of the homeless. Thank you so much for writing this article it’s really important that we all take some type of action to help these people.

  8. David Langen says:

    Hey Gary,

    You make the most sense of the house-less situation that I’ve heard. Keep advocating!

    Dave Langen

  9. 808 645 6995 says:

    Gary you are 100% right about the lack of housing being the core of many of our issues on Kauai. How about putting together a small tent city with adequate seccurity, bathing facilities, and infrastructure. I know we can do this and would be willing to work on this. All the other issues are important but you have to start some where. As we are Americans we should be proud of that and be willing to help our friends who are not reaping the awards of this great country.

    • garyhooser says:

      Thanks for the note and I encourage you to connect with those many good folk who are already doing the work, and join in! My immediate “public policy” focus is beating on the permanent affordable housing drum…at the State and County level and try to get our slow-moving government to move faster. Plus I am advocating for a clean safe place that is designated for people to park their cars/vans…and get a good nights sleep. There are many people now living in their vehicles but there is no legal, safe place to park at night. Creating and supporting a “tent city” or a 24/7 homeless camp has many moving parts and requires 24/7 attention. Providing a place to park and sleep between the hours of say 6pm and 8am…and not have it be a full-time camp (only a place to sleep) seems more easily doable and is much needed. During the day many of these folks living in their cars/vans are working…but just need a safe, legal place to park at night. This doesn’t replace affordable housing but is better than be kicked out or parking lots at beach parks in the middle of the night etc.

  10. D. Matsumoto says:

    I live in a diverse neighborhood in Waikiki. Within walking distance are luxury high rises, old gated co-ops like ours, humble walkups, a state-owned transition home, 5-star thru 1-star hotels, hostels and the whole gamut of restaurants and businesses. Waikiki Beach is a 5 minute walk away. When I step out onto the street it is not unusual to run into a homeless person or two. It’s not unusual to see blood on the sidewalk on my way to catch a bus. It’s not unusual to see abandoned belongings or feces on my walks. It’s not unusual to hear fighting or anguished yells out there while I’m in my furnished and safe apartment at any time of day. I appreciate your practical and compassionate approach to this multifaceted issue. I agree that providing “home” is a vital first step. It appears that most of my homeless neighbors need addiction treatment and/or mental health care. They are transient so I’m sure that is a near impossible task to provide continuous treatment and assessment for the range of issues each individual may have. I feel unless there is genuine cooperation of all pertinent agencies and follow through and followup then providing “home” may all be for naught. The other challenge I see in many of my neighbors is apathy. They leave their home and get in the car, park, go to work or a restaurant or shopping, get back in the car and go home never once really seeing, smelling or hearing a homeless person. And that’s how they want it. They care more about loud tree trimmers and weedwhackers and obnoxious revving of cars or motorcycles that disturb their peace. My friends and I will always find a person or two to share our doggie bags with after we have our once a month dining out treat. One of my neighbors (does her summers at a 4-bdrm house on Lake Michigan) told me I was part of the problem, like if I fed the pigeons in front of 7-11. In Hawaii we have many important, pressing and expensive problems that we expect our often self-serving and corrupt political, public and private officials to attend to. As a humble 63yr old from a Big Island sugar plantation town this situation is frustrating and depressing but it will not stop me from sharing what I can with my neighbors living out there. I once sat for over 2 hours with a man who shared his story with me and I witnessed the glares from passerby and heard derogatory comments spat out from 2 people loaded up with bags from Prada and Balenciaga. As I prepared to board my bus he touched my arm and thanked me. He said it had been a while since someone sat down with him, made eye contact and just talked story esp. about the good old days when the cafeteria ladies actually cooked and baked our lunches.
    I appreciate you and believe that you are motivated by your love of these islands and our people. Thank your for your time and thank you for what you do.

    • garyhooser says:

      Thank you so much for taking the time to write and share your thoughts. Your words and experience have inspired and moved me to do more – and continue pushing to support the changes needed to improve the lives of everyone caught in this trap. gh

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