Registered island voters, in general, do not believe Hawaii’s homeless problem has improved over the last year, and 62 percent support the idea of so-called “safe zones” for homeless people to live without fear of getting swept.
Neighbor island respondents to the Hawaii Poll were slightly more optimistic than their Oahu counterparts. Some 13 percent of neighbor island respondents said the homeless problem has gotten better over the last 12 months, compared with only 10 percent of Oahu respondents.
But neighbor island and Oahu respondents had the identical 42 percent reaction in telling the Hawaii Poll that the homeless problem has gotten worse over the last 12 months.
Only Oahu saw an increase in its homeless population — of 19 people, in the latest homeless census. All of the neighbor islands saw decreases.
“I think it’s gotten worse,” said Jessica Baang, 66, of Waianae. “There’s an awful lot of homeless coming out here after getting cleared from the airport area and Kakaako, while the situation at the Waianae Boat Harbor can’t seem to get resolved.”
There were slight differences in opinion among varying demographics.
For instance, 48 percent of respondents who identified as “white” said Hawaii’s homeless problem has gotten worse, compared with 38 percent who identified as Japanese. And only 27 percent of Democrats believe homelessness has gotten worse, compared with 59 percent of Republicans and 51 percent of independent voters.
House leaders have wiped out Gov. David Ige’s budget proposal to spend more than $8 million on existing homeless programs and instead want to pour $30 million into so-called safe zones, which have now morphed into the concept of government-sanctioned “ohana zones” despite the warnings of federal officials who say they don’t work and distract communities by arguing over where to place them.
Oahu and neighbor island respondents had the identical 62 percent support for safe zones. But safe zones are opposed by 17 percent of people on Oahu, and 21 percent are undecided. The numbers are flipped among the neighbor islands, where 21 percent oppose safe zones and 17 percent are undecided.
“I support safe zones,” said Teddy Harrison, 74, of Hawaii Kai. “It seems like the easiest, quick method to fix it, to at least confine them to a certain area so they’re not all over the street. I’m thinking of tourism. I would be horrified if I were on vacation and I saw this stuff.”
The Hawaii Poll was conducted March 13-18 by Washington, D.C.-based Mason- Dixon Polling & Strategy by contacting 800 registered Hawaii voters across the islands by cell and landline phones. The margin of error is no more than 3.5 percentage points.
When it came to the question of whether homelessness affects “your quality of life,” 51 percent of Oahu’s respondents agreed, compared with only 43 percent of those on the neighbor islands.
White respondents led the way, with 51 percent saying homelessness has affected their quality of life, compared with 44 percent of Japanese.
Some 63 percent of Republicans also said homelessness affects their quality of life compared with 39 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of independents.
“You have to be careful about what public bathrooms you might use, about where you’re going to walk,” said Mike Hansen, 67, of Aina Haina. “Most of them are not violent, of course, but there are some that are pretty aggressive. Where there used to be a lot of sympathy for these people, my sense is the level of sympathy has decreased.”
In fact, only 9 percent of Oahu respondents and 8 percent of those on the neighbor islands said the public has more tolerance for the homeless.
“I think there is less tolerance because it seems like nothing’s getting done,” Baang said.