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Oahu residents believe the homeless problem is worsening

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  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA
    A man has his breakfast next to busy Harding Ave. After a sweep on Monday, about 4-6 people still remained in the area. Homeless on Harding Ave.
  • about 4-6 people still remained in the area. Homeless on Harding Ave.

FIRST OF 3 PARTS

Oahu residents overwhelmingly believe the island’s homeless problem has gotten worse over the past year and is hurting both the overall economy and their own quality of life, according to a new Hawaii Poll.

“It’s growing daily,” said Rebecca Overfield, 60, of Waikiki. “You can see it. You can feel it around you. With tourism being our biggest draw to our islands, tourists should not have to be subjected to the homeless situation here.”

The Hawaii Poll was conducted by Ward Research Inc. for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now, and surveyed 408 residents across Oahu between July 24-29. It had a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.

According to the results, 73 percent of Oahu residents said they believe the island’s homeless problem has gotten worse over the past 12 months.

By comparison, a February 2014 Ward Research survey of registered voters found that 58 percent of respondents said they believed the homeless problem had gotten worse in the preceding 12 months.

SUNDAY

>> Star-Advertiser: Residents weigh in on the causes, extent and affect of homelessness
>> Hawaii News Now: Who’s responsible for fixing the problem and how are they doing?

MONDAY

>> Star-Advertiser: Views on various proposed homelessness solutions
>> Hawaii News Now: Support for sweeps, sit-lie laws and what to do about Kakaako

Just looking at the attitudes of registered voters, the July poll showed an even bigger change in perception with 76 percent of registered voters saying they believe the homeless situation has gotten worse — compared to 62 percent of people not registered to vote.

The latest poll found dramatic changes in attitudes between February 2014 and last month.

For instance, in 2014, 58 percent of registered voters surveyed for the poll said they believed that homelessness was affecting the economy and discouraging visitors from returning. In July, the number of registered voters who agreed jumped to 71 percent.

Only 62 percent of registered voters in 2014 said homelessness was affecting their own quality of life at beaches, parks and other places where homeless people congregate. By July, the number had risen to 73 percent among registered voters — and 70 percent among all surveyed.

“You used to see a few homeless people. Now it’s whole families, kids, groups of people,” said Alycea Arline, 22, of Aiea. “Tourists come here and want to see beautiful Hawaii. If it’s crowded with tents and dirty people, that’s not why people come here to paradise. It’s not necessarily a place people want to put money into.”

The latest annual Statewide Homeless Point in Time Count was conducted Jan. 25 and released in June. It found the highest homeless population across the islands in five years: 7,620 people, up from 6,918 a year before.

On Oahu, the survey counted 4,903 homeless people, up from 4,712.

“There are more people without homes now than there have been in the past, and it does have an impact on the economy,” Gov. David Ige said in a statement. “It’s essential that we understand the scope of the problem, and the state is working with the county and nonprofit providers to gather data that will help shape the solutions.”

Mayor Kirk Caldwell said residents remain unhappy even as the city’s “sit-lie” ban has helped clear out homeless people from Waikiki, downtown and Chinatown.

“I understand they’re very frustrated despite all that we’re doing because homeless people are now moving into places where we live and where we shop,” he said.

The Hawaii Poll revealed deep differences in attitudes depending on age, ethnicity, gender, geographic area and how long a respondent has lived on Oahu.

For example, 78 percent of people who were born and raised here believe homelessness has gotten worse in the past year compared to just 55 percent of people who have have lived here 10 years or less.

And 78 percent of women believe it’s gotten worse compared to just 68 percent of men.

“With a larger proportion of women saying the homeless problem has gotten worse one has to wonder if women are reflecting security concerns for themselves and for their kids,” said Rebecca Ward, president of Ward Research.

The poll found that 83 percent of respondents ages 35 to 54 think the situation has gotten worse compared to only 55 percent of people 35 or younger.

“When we look at it by age, people 35 and over are more likely to say it’s gotten worse than are younger people,” Ward said. “They tend to be family people and I wonder if that isn’t identification with seeing families on the street.”

East Honolulu residents (82 percent) believe the problem is worse compared to 68 percent who live in the Ewa/Leeward Coast area.

There were no differences in attitude by income. But 81 percent of Filipinos believe the problem has gotten worse compared to just 64 percent of Caucasians.

A plurality of respondents — 33 percent — cited a lack of affordable housing as the No. 1 cause. The next largest group — 23 percent — said the root cause of homelessness was lack of income or jobs.

Some 13 percent cited substance abuse and 9 percent blamed mental illness.

While “lack of affordable housing” was the most cited cause of homelessness, there were large differences.

Some 44 percent of Hawaiians cited lack of affordable housing as the main cause, compared to just 26 percent of Filipinos.

Among people who have lived here 10 years or less, 41 percent of people agreed that lack of affordable housing was the No. 1 cause — compared to 19 percent of people who have lived here 10 years or more.

“When you look at the top reasons people don’t have homes, it’s clear that the ultimate goal must be to increase housing options,” Ige said. “There are people who are working and can’t afford or find a place to live. This must change. It will take political will, strong community support and time to meet our housing needs. … It will not be easy, and the underlying issues that cause people to fall into homelessness cannot be resolved quickly.”

Matu‘u Pulotu, 44, of Hauula, is among those who believe the problem has become exacerbated in town — and even in his own community.

“On my side it’s gotten worse and I think it’s because they keep cleaning up the sidewalks and large areas of town, so they’re making their way more towards my side,” Pulotu said.

Pulotu has friends who are homeless around Hauula and sympathizes with their plight.

In general, Puloto blames homelessness on “a lack of affordable housing as well as income disparity. Mental health plays a part, but the cost of living is just too great.”

Pulotu also said he understands that anyone can end up in the same situation.

“A lot of the homeless I know have jobs but their earned income isn’t enough so they have to live in the park in order to feed their kids,” Pulotu said. “Anyone could wind up being homeless because you never know what emergency or tragedy will hit their lives that could be right around the corner.”

ENLARGE PHOTO.

ENLARGE PHOTO.

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