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Unlucky they live in Hawaii

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The fact that hundreds of homeless people in Hawaii haven’t been here very long is no surprise to the outreach workers who spend their days trying to help poor, downtrodden, disabled, unlucky and sometimes just plain dysfunctional people manage their lives.

It is this knowledge that has propelled valid efforts, like the one underway now in Waikiki, to help homeless people reconnect with family networks and support systems outside the islands.

Attracted by mild weather, the promise of easily accessed government benefits and a general sense of aloha, some of these folks arrived with no real prospects for ever making a living and supporting themselves.

Still, it’s sobering to see the statistics so starkly laid out, as they are in the "Homeless Service Utilization: Hawaii 2014," the ninth annual report produced by the University of Hawaii-Manoa’s Center on the Family and state Department of Human Services’ Homeless Programs Office (full report at

Statewide, nearly 17 percent of adult homeless clients counted in the report — a total of 1,767 people — reported living in Hawaii for less than five years. One third of them, or 615 people, had arrived in Hawaii within the past 12 months. The issue is most pronounced in Maui County, where 22 percent of the homeless population have resided in the islands for less than five years, including 10 percent who arrived less than a year ago. On Oahu, 15 percent were newer arrivals, including 5 percent within the past 12 months.

Clearly, this is a small segment of Hawaii’s total homeless population, but it is a growing one, and a problem not to be ignored. It’s important to keep would-be residents from buying into a false view of paradise, when the economic reality is so much harsher.

Sit-lie bans, so reviled by anti-poverty activists, have a high-profile role to play in this effort, in keeping public spaces accessible for all residents and in making it clear that cities don’t welcome a permanent population of street people, especially new arrivals.

The City Council’s recent expansion of Waikiki’s sit-lie ban to other business districts around Oahu will hamper its effectiveness, however, if enforcement is lacking or if the measure proves so broad that it is found unconstitutional; Mayor Kirk Caldwell has yet to sign the bill, but said he will if city attorneys deem it legally defensible.

Opponents of the sit-lie ban say one of its flaws is that it punishes poor people who have no place else to go. But when it comes to addressing chronic homelessness, the solution obviously requires a lot more than affordable housing. The Homeless Service Utilization report makes plain that sad truth.

Of the total 14,282 individuals served by Hawaii’s homeless service system in fiscal year 2014, 24 percent, or 3,367 people, were repeat clients. According to the report, many re-entered the system after previously exiting into what were supposed to be permanent situations, such as subsidized or unsubsidized housing, moving in with family or friends, or acquiring supportive housing that included social services along with a place to live.

Homelessness is a complex problem. The solutions are equally multifaceted, and include education and training programs, jobs that pay a living wage and more affordable rental housing. Access to mental-health, drug and alcohol treatment is essential.

Discouraging people from moving here when they have no way to support themselves has a place in a comprehensive approach to ending homelessness in Hawaii, as does helping them leave the islands when the price of paradise exacts too high a toll.

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