People on Oahu generally feel that the island’s homeless situation has gotten better in the year since the beating of a state representative in the heart of an entrenched encampment in Kakaako, and far fewer believe the problem’s gotten worse, results of the latest Hawaii Poll show.
In a Hawaii Poll released last July just after state Rep. Tom Brower was attacked while photographing the encampment, 73 percent of respondents indicated that homelessness on Oahu had gotten worse over the previous 12 months.
A year later, only 47 percent of Hawaii Poll participants surveyed from June 30 to July 9 now believe the situation has gotten worse over the previous year. The latest Hawaii Poll was conducted by Ward Research.
“I would say it’s gotten a little better,” said poll participant Georganne Akamine, 76, of Waipio Gentry. “There’s been some progress, but it has in no way eliminated the problem.”
Overall, 12 percent of respondents in the Hawaii Poll said the homeless problem has gotten better, compared with only 4 percent who felt the same way in July 2015.
Ige, Caldwell react
In the latest so-called Point in Time Count census of Oahu’s homeless population, led by social-service outreach workers in January, the island saw an increase of 37 additional homeless people, representing a gain of less than 1 percent.
While more people were tallied in the Point in Time Count, the administrations of both Gov. David Ige and Mayor Kirk Caldwell have said that joint efforts also have moved hundreds of people off of Oahu’s streets and into shelters, transitional housing and so-called Housing First rental units.
The latest Hawaii Poll responses were statistically even with a January Hawaii Poll that asked whether Caldwell and Ige were doing “a good job” addressing homelessness on Oahu.
Some 47 percent of July respondents said Caldwell is doing a good job on the subject, compared with 45 percent in January.
Ige’s positive numbers were far lower than Caldwell’s but also were statistically even from poll to poll. In January 33 percent of respondents indicated Ige was doing a good job addressing homelessness on Oahu, compared with 34 percent this month.
“Over the past year, there has been unprecedented collaboration with an ‘all hands on deck’ approach that has been building momentum,” Ige said in a statement. “In Kakaako alone, nearly 300 people have been permanently housed in less than a year.
“We recognize the size and scope of homelessness in Hawaii, which is why I issued the Emergency Proclamation on Homelessness and subsequent Supplemental Proclamations, to quickly connect people to permanent housing and supportive services. The Legislature also allocated $12 million to address homelessness and those resources will be deployed to make the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time.
“There are countless people across this state and in all sectors who are fully devoted to ending homelessness. Their work is being recognized over time in the poll’s measurement of whether homelessness is getting better or worse, and the data show that the collective efforts of all involved has slowed the growth rate.”
Caldwell said in a statement that the city had no comprehensive homeless program when he was elected mayor in 2013.
“Three and a half years later, with the support of the City Council, we have a wide range of homeless initiatives that get results,” Caldwell said. “We have embraced Housing First and contracted with IHS who has housed 176 extremely high-need people with a 97 percent retention rate. … The Pauahi Hale Hygiene Center is the first of its kind in Hawaii. We saw an opportunity to pilot an idea that works elsewhere in the heart of Chinatown and 60-70 people use the facility every day. My administration, working with the City Council, acquired a warehouse in Iwilei and will convert the first floor into a comprehensive drop-in hygiene center with bathrooms, showers, and laundry facilities and provide services and permanent supportive housing on the floors above. We’ve acquired properties from Makiki to Makaha to house those in need. Hale Mauliola, the state’s first Housing Navigation center, reached full capacity and has placed 65 people into permanent housing since opening its doors last November.”
Still, there were noticeable differences when people were asked which mayoral candidate will do the best job in addressing homelessness.
Djou weighs in
Former Congressman and City Councilman Charles Djou received the highest percent of responses — 36 percent — compared with Caldwell (30 percent) and former Mayor Peter Carlisle (17 percent).
Carlisle’s numbers were the same as the 17 percent of respondents who either do not know which candidate will do the best job with homelessness or refused to answer.
Contacted for comment for this story, poll participant Ed Hampton of Kakaako, who described his age as “in the 70s,” could not articulate Djou’s plan to address Oahu’s homeless. But Hampton contended Djou still is the best mayoral candidate to produce results.
Hampton lives in one of Kakaako’s expensive high-rises, where he sees homeless people out his window every day harassing people and defecating in public.
“We’re at ground zero,” Hampton said. “We’ve become a dumping ground. Tourists are constantly walking around this area, exposed to these people going to the bathroom in public sight. Kids in the park are running through this stuff. It’s not a healthy situation.”
Hampton said, “Caldwell’s not addressing homelessness. Ige hasn’t done anything, either.”
So Djou is the best mayoral candidate to deal with homelessness, in Hampton’s view, “because he has to,” adding, “I’m ready for a fresh face.”
Djou acknowledged that sentiment.
“I think it’s not me as much as it is a reaction,” he said. “Clearly, what the city is doing right now isn’t working, and the public is not satisfied with the administration’s response to homelessness.”
In general, Djou said, the city’s bureaucracy is too cumbersome to quickly and effectively deal with the complex issues associated with homelessness.
His preference is to deploy “better, greater, more resources directed to the nonprofit community rather than have this homeless problem tackled by the city bureaucracy.”
“I wish there was a magic bullet,” he said. “‘Do this one thing and homelessness would be fixed.’ There isn’t. It’s a very, very complex issue.”