Will An Emergency Proclamation Solve Homelessness in Hawai‘i?

Oct 28, 2015

Credit Molly Solomon

Governor David Ige announced plans to clear new homeless camps in Kaka‘ako. The 130 people living on state park land will have three weeks to move before sweeps begin in November. And as HPR’s Molly Solomon reports, the Governor’s plan relies on help from those who work with the homeless. 

Jerry Coffee is the clinical director for the Institute for Human Services. It runs the largest emergency homeless shelter in the state. He says local shelters like his have been busy, especially since the recent sweep of a homeless camp in Kakaako. “We took a good many of those folks,” he said. “We brought in eight families, just in the span of about two weeks.”

An annual homeless count shows there are more than 7,000 homeless people in Hawai‘i – making it the highest per capita state for homelessness in the nation. Coffee hopes the emergency declaration will finally make it a priority for the state. “Some very visible encampments really prompted them to acknowledge the crisis that frankly has been visible for some time,” Coffee said.

Plans include a new shelter with a focus on housing families. But Coffee says it’s not yet clear exactly how the funding will be distributed. “We still have our ear to the ground,” he said. “To wait and see what their expectation is for how the providers will make use of that additional funding.”

Hawai‘i’s declaration follows similar actions taken by the cities of Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. Using emergency proclamations to tackle homelessness is something new, says Maria Foscarinis, the executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. “It does seem to be something of a trend,” she said. “And it’s a trend that I think reflects the unfortunate reality that homelessness is a national crisis.”

And while she says the additional funding should ultimately help homeless people, she worries the declaration could also have some negative impacts. “Depending on how it’s used, it could promote sweeps,” said Foscarinis. “Which is not the way to address homelessness, and which Hawai‘i has a history of, a recent history of.”

More sweeps are on the way: just this week the governor announced plans to clear two new camps in Kakaako. Enforcement is expected to begin next month.