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Homelessness push earning poor marks


    “We need to find real solutions to get our homeless back into permanent housing with dignity,” said Howard Sugai, 68, of Mililani. “I’m very sympathetic to the plight because I know a lot of people that are just one paycheck from being homeless themselves.” Above, a homeless man pitched his tent along Ohe Street near the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center in Kakaako.


    A man who identified himself only as Vito eats his dinner, a Reese’s peanut butter cup, as he gathers his belongings near his tent on Ohe Street in Kakaako. Several groups of homeless returned to the area surrounding Ohe Street despite sweeps by the city.


Hawaii’s rampant homelessness clearly has the attention of island voters who aren’t pleased with how Gov. David Ige and Mayor Kirk Caldwell are handling the crisis, according to the latest Hawaii Poll.

The poll found that 56 percent of registered voters statewide say Ige is not doing a good job on homelessness, while 34 percent approve of his handling of the crisis and 9 percent did not know or refused to answer. On Oahu, where the crisis is most acute, Ige’s numbers slipped even further, with 58 percent disapproving and 33 percent approving of how he is handling the issue.

Caldwell received better marks. Still, 47 percent of Oahu voters disapproved of his handling of homelessness versus 45 percent who say he is doing a good job and 8 percent saying they don’t know or refusing to answer.

To Rae Hagen, 76, of Kaneohe, homelessness has “just gotten so out of hand and disturbing,” she said, adding, “There have not been very successful forays in trying to correct it.”

The six weeks spent cleaning out the Kakaako makai encampment resulted in the occupants spreading into nearby state parks and eventually back to Kakaako makai and represented a wider practice of “just moving them out with no place to go — just moving the problem around the island,” Hagen said. “That’s disturbing. We have to go back a step and try to find some solutions.”

The Hawaii Poll, conducted by Ward Research Inc. for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, polled 619 registered voters statewide, including 433 on Oahu, between Dec. 28 and Jan. 9 on cellphones and landlines. The margin of error is 3.9 percent for statewide questions and 4.7 percent for Oahu questions.

The poll recorded a flip in priorities for voters, with 24 percent on Oahu saying homelessness is the most important issue; rail came in a distant second place at 16 percent. In January 2015 the Hawaii Poll found a plurality of respondents — 19 percent — considered rail the island’s most important issue, just ahead of traffic and the “economy/cost of living/jobs.” Homelessness ranked fourth in importance.

Six months later the Kakaako makai homeless encampment exploded into a major health and safety problem after state Rep. Tom Brower (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana-Kakaako) was attacked while photographing the area. During an August census, 293 people were counted living in wood-reinforced tents and tarps around the University of Hawaii medical school and Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center. There was a spike in assaults and 911 calls to police, firefighters and paramedics from homeless people.

In the months that followed, city and state officials continued to crack down on homeless encampments across Oahu as officials search for long-term solutions for an island with the highest per capita rate of homelessness in the country.

‘Statistically significant’

Even with a margin of error of 4.7 percent, the Oahu results of the latest Hawaii Poll show a clear chasm between concerns over homelessness and rail, said Rebecca Ward, president and CEO of Ward Research.

“The difference between the 24 percent mention for homelessness and the 16 percent mention for rail tested statistically significant,” Ward said. “That is, it is highly unlikely that the difference was caused by chance; rather, it is most likely due to actual differences in opinion.”

Improvement cited

Other results of the Hawaii Poll showed signs of optimism.

In the latest poll, 14 percent of Oahu registered voters said Oahu’s homeless problem has gotten better. In the July Hawaii Poll only 4 percent said the problem had gotten better.

The latest survey of registered voters also found that 64 percent say homelessness has affected the economy and discouraged visitors from returning — compared with 71 percent of residents who were surveyed in July.

Quality of life

In the latest poll, 64 percent of Oahu respondents said homelessness had reduced their own quality of life at beaches, in parks, on sidewalks and in other places where homeless people congregate, down from 70 percent in July.

But 47 percent of Oahu respondents in the December-January poll said homelessness is such a big problem that it will never be resolved — compared with 44 percent of residents who gave that answer in July.

There was no statistically significant change in attitudes toward the city’s “sit-lie ban” and other policies that prohibit homeless people from occupying city sidewalks and parks.

In January 2015 the Hawaii Poll found that 73 percent agreed with the city’s policies, compared with 76 percent in the most recent survey.

To Howard Sugai, 68, of Mililani, homelessness represents “a major concern for me, if not the No. 1 concern.”

“I’m very sympathetic to the plight because I know a lot of people that are just one paycheck from being homeless themselves,” Sugai said. “We need to find real solutions to get our homeless back into permanent housing with dignity. A lot of people are homeless because of circumstances beyond their control. They need the right mental health treatment, the right drug treatment to get permanent living quarters with dignity and honor.”

‘Always a top issue’

As city and state officials continue to tear down homeless encampments, Sugai — a retired Army lieutenant colonel — said he worries about the effects on other neighborhoods.

“Having homeless people relocate to other parts of the island reminds me of when I was in the Army and we referred to ‘mission creep’ (a gradual shift in objectives). It slowly affects other parts of our community and businesses in the form of increased crime, assaults, drug problems that are directly attributed to the homeless being relocated.”

Chad Cambra, a 30-year-old paralegal and master’s degree candidate in social work at the University of Hawaii, said homelessness on Oahu “is always going to be a top issue.”

When he was younger, Cambra said he considered Oahu’s homeless population primarily “dirty Vietnam veterans.” But as a sophomore at the University of Oregon, Cambra returned to Oahu one summer to work as a Summer Fun adviser and realized that one of his student aides was homeless.

“I didn’t realize his family lived by Lake Wilson,” Cambra said. “It was a moment when you realize that homelessness hits close to home. My mindset changed to be more sympathetic.”

Today, Cambra said, homelessness is the most important issue facing Oahu. “When you see how many people are affected,” he said, “it doesn’t seem like we’re helping them.”

Hawaii Poll — Homelessness

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  • Homeless people have to clean up their act, and become productive citizens of the community. You can feed a man for day. You can allow him to thrive by teaching him how to fish for a lifetime.

    • “The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.” – John Keats

    • Clean up their act without access to bathrooms or showers or laundry. While constantly being hunted and having their stuff taken at three in the morning by government. Right.

    • The only question that should have been asked and wasn’t is are you willing to raise your taxes to fund programs to get the homeless off the streets. If you answer is no then you have no business complaining about this issue.

    • The vast majority of our homeless have been in hawaii more than 5 years, and did not arrive homeless. This is a toxic myth. Fastest growing demo here is local families. Over 100% growth since 2014. Read the reports before you asssume.

        • There are homeless who are only looking for a handout, who do not want to work to improve their life and move out of poverty.

        • I think you are lacking in facts and logic yourself when you rely on name-calling, i.e. sociopath, as a fundamental argument.

          Furthermore, your name-calling is shady because it relies on assumptions about intent and inner mental state.

          Perhaps you could practice by restricting your name-calling to that which is based on simple observation, such as “crooked Hillary”, rather than on the usual sociology mumbo jumbo of sociopath, xenophobia, homophobe, and so on.

  • Ige is a joke. All he is doing is sweeping the dirt under the rug. I believe his time in office as of now is unproductive. He has done nothing. Only traveling to other countries to promote tourism. How about making Hawaii more beautiful then go look for tourists.

      • You need to nip homelessness at the early stages. All the people about to become adults need severe education or consultation on birth control, spending habits, drugs, abuse, job loss and where to seek help before the spiral downward. That’s where money should be spent. Yes it will be a task for those who cannot be educated or don’t want to but it’s a start. As for the current homeless problem it’s too late for most of them. Either lock those who resent help and help those who truly want help.

        • Can’t lock them up. With the ACLU standing behind them, they have more rights we do.

  • If homeless refuse to move into housing because they don’t like the rules… can’t do drugs…. Why not arrest them for the drugs and give them a choice, housing or jail? Follow societies laws or go to jail.

  • I saw a guy who sits all day near Costco asking for handouts get dropped off by another guy in a Jaguar. They smoked something first too. Nice life, these two.

  • This is all about personal accountability. Yes, some have had some misfortunate turns in their life. But that is no excuse to not at least make an attempt ro solve their Homeless issue. They have been offered help and most have refused. Those that refuse need to be treated with a strong hand.

    • These people are at the lowest point in their lives. Yet the one thing that remains untouched is their freedom. If there were a way to threaten this last possession and at the same time provide a positive alternative we may be able to push them in a favorable direction. Only politicians have the power to accomplish this. Is there a great leader that will step up to the challenge?

      • Re: “Only politicians have the power to accomplish this.” save paradise

        It’s sad to hear you assert Hawaii’s homeless have no capacity to improve themselves. Too feeble minded or lacking the resolve to persevere during “the lowest point in their lives.” Their efforts toward self-sufficiency are inconsequential because “only politicans have the power” “to push them in a favorable direction.” Talk about a depressing perspective.

        Instead of giving homeless free shelter without skin in the game (do drugs = free housing), let’s reward those who make the effort to better their living situation. I.e., shelter residence is necessary prior to any type of aid.

        CPS, do your job. Remove the children from homeless encampments and put them in an environment which food and shelter are constants. Make these substance-abusing parents change their ways if they want their kids back.

        Legislature, stop the influx of mainland homeless by passing new vagrancy laws prohibiting “moving” to our state without employment, residence or plan.

        Churches, stop feeding the homeless and providing medical services…especially off church grounds. Seen too many deliveries of Papa John’s pizza to the Waikiki homeless. Without the free aid, they would make their way to the shelters.

        Bottom-line, stop giving the homeless free “fish”. Instead, teach them how to fish by creating more comprehensive job training programs and work subsidies for company’s that employ homeless.

  • Uku and We-licky, do you remember me urging you people to help the poor when the rail debate was full on? All of the train peeps did not listen, closed their eyes, and played deaf ear. Nana-kuli. You can see the poor asking for help but turn away and play deaf. $8,000,000,000.00 could have bought a lot of assistance to the poor and reinforced our educational system along with sustaining the aina. Priorities are clearly out of place with our politicians who cater to their special interest groups and wallets. Time to change the laws and get serious Governor Ige. There is no way out for these poor souls unless they are forced to decide between viable options.

  • Charge a fee to live on public property, around $200.00 a month (deducted directly from any gov’t subsistence) with mandatory drug testing. Of course it’ll never happen.

  • Close all the shelters and soup kitchens. Limit services for homeless adults to medical care, mental health counseling, drug alcohol rehab, and job training/placement.

  • Homeless is a city problem and Ige ended up in the fray and has done more is the short time involved. What needs to be done is more enforcement. A police homeless task force in each district. There is help but most are not taking it.

  • Well that makes perfect sense. Why have lawyers write laws? It’s probably better to have people who don’t understand law work as legislators. Great idea!

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