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Hawaii Poll: Majority of voters say homelessness has gotten worse

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Chico Martinez, 60, held a sign asking for help near Iwilei Road on Wednesday evening. Martinez, who in the past had worked painting houses and laying tile, has been homeless for about a year. “It’s not for me,” Martinez said of homelessness.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Chico Martinez, 60, held a sign asking for help near Iwilei Road on Wednesday evening. Martinez, who in the past had worked painting houses and laying tile, has been homeless for about a year. “It’s not for me,” Martinez said of homelessness.

A majority of registered Hawaii voters across all islands believe homelessness has gotten “worse” over the last year — but they’re split on whether homeless sweeps are “worthwhile,” according to the Honolulu Star- Advertiser’s Hawaii Poll.

“It just seems that you see them more often,” said Aldon Kaopuiki of Mililani, 43, who drives around Oahu for work as an air-conditioning technician. “They’re more visible,” Kao­puiki said. “It’s not quite as bad in Mililani, not compared to areas like Kakaako, Waimanalo, downtown.”

But Kaopuiki — along with 45% of Hawaii Poll respondents — said he believes that homeless sweeps by state and city officials are “worthwhile.”

Sweeps can lead to some homeless people “getting the help they need,” Kaopuiki said. “I’d say they’re worthwhile because some people are actually getting something out of it.”

The Hawaii Poll asked four homeless-related questions:

>> Only 5% of respondents statewide said they believe that “the homelessness problem” has gotten “better” in the previous 12 months, compared to 53% statewide who said the situation has gotten “worse.” Another 36% percent said the situation is the same.

The responses differed by island.

Only 2% of Kauai’s registered voters responded that homelessness has gotten “better,” compared to 64% who said it has gotten worse.

Maui’s annual homeless count dropped from 1,145 people in 2016 to 862 in January’s annual nationwide homeless census called the Point in Time Count. But on Maui, only 7% of respondents said the situation has gotten better, compared to 56% who believe it has gotten worse.

The responses on Oahu were similar to the state overall, with 4% believing homelessness has gotten better on Oahu compared to 51% who said it has gotten worse.

>> Statewide, 56% of registered voters said that homelessness is affecting their “quality of life,” compared to 42% who say it is not.

>> Only 10% of Hawaii Poll respondents said the public is more tolerant of the homeless across Hawaii, compared to 26% who say the public is less tolerant.

>> Asked if city and state sweeps are worthwhile, 45% agreed statewide and 42% disagreed. On Oahu, 44% agreed and 45% disagreed.

The results of the Hawaii Poll belies the progress seen over the last three consecutive Point in Time Counts.

In January’s Point in Time Count, Oahu saw a 1% drop in homelessness — meaning that Oahu’s homeless population fell from 4,495 people in January 2018 to 4,453 this year.

Combined with a 2% decline in homelessness across the neighbor islands, Hawaii saw an overall 1% drop in homelessness this year.

The 1% overall dip pales in comparison to the previous two years, which saw annual statewide declines of more than 9% starting in 2017.

This January, 6,448 homeless people were counted across all islands.

Until nationwide homeless counts are announced later this year, Hawaii continues to lead the country with the highest per capita rate of homelessness.

While Hawaii has seen its numbers go down over three consecutive years, West Coast cities from Los Angeles to Seattle continue to see their homeless numbers rise.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell gets more complaints and comments concerning homelessness than any other issue.

“People are becoming less and less tolerant” — especially toward chronically homeless people who may have mental and substance issues, Caldwell said.

“Tolerance is waning,” he said. “People want answers and they want it gone tomorrow. Unfortunately, it won’t be.”

Officials with the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness have repeatedly told state and county officials that they are doing many things right to reduce homelessness — but they need to do them on a larger scale.

One of the most promising projects — Kahauiki Village near Sand Island on North Nimitz Highway — was the result of a public-private partnership driven by businessman Duane Kurisu, founder and chairman of the aio Group.

On Saturday, Caldwell, Kurisu, City and County cabinet members and more than 30 other volunteers are scheduled to help build modular homes for the second phase of Kahauiki Village.

In a statement, Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator, said: “Homelessness is an issue that affects the well-being of Hawaii’s residents. With that in mind, we continue to make progress in getting our most vulnerable residents off the streets, as the results of the past three statewide Point in Time counts show.

“We remain committed to the Housing First model, which places people in permanent housing with support services,” Morishige said. “In addition, we are moving forward across the state to develop more affordable housing, which has a direct impact on homelessness and social services. Finally, many of those still on the streets are resistant to services, so we continue to partner with the counties and service organizations to execute programs with proven results.

“Homelessness is a complex issue, and the programs we put in place must be sustainable now and into the future,” Morishige said.

But Sophia Su’a, a 49-year-old, tourist-related business owner who regularly travels from her home in Waipahu to Waikiki, said she believes that homelessness “has gotten worse” over the past 12 months.

“I see more homeless on the street,” she said. “We see the police kick them out and then they’re back the next day with even more of them. They’re all over, especially in the downtown area.”

The optics are particularly bad for tourism, Hawaii’s No. 1 industry, according to Su’a.

“It’s an eyesore for these people that come to Hawaii,” she said. “They shouldn’t have to see that.”

The Hawaii Poll was conducted for the Star-Advertiser by Washington, D.C.-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy from Sept. 12 through Sept. 17. The poll surveyed 800 registered Hawaii voters statewide using both land line and cell phone numbers. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

There were sometimes considerable differences among various demographic groups.

For instance, only 2% people of respondents who identified themselves as “white” said that the homeless problem has gotten better over the previous year, compared to 10% who identified as Japanese.

And 60% of people under age 50 said that the homeless problem is affecting their quality of life, compared to 52% of people 50 years old or older.

When it came to political parties, 64% of Republicans said homelessness affects their quality of life compared to only 49% of Democrats.

Asked whether sweeps of homeless encampments are “worthwhile,” only 36% of Hawaiians agreed compared to 56% of Japanese.

Mayor Caldwell defended homeless sweeps — although he prefers the term “enforcement actions.”

State sheriff’s deputies and Honolulu police spent much of the summer of 2015 sweeping the parks and streets around Kakaako Waterfront Park and the University of Hawaii medical school after the city’s “sit-lie” ban first went into effect in Waikiki — leading to the creation of a homeless encampment that swelled to more than 300 people.

Caldwell said he understands the public’s frustration regarding sweeps because “when we enforce, many times … they just move down the street somewhere else. It will get better and slowly they’ll come back.” Even if more people opposed homeless sweeps, Caldwell said, “We would still do it. It’s the correct thing to do.”

Sandra Aki, 66, of Wailuku, Maui, answered the Hawaii Poll questions from the perspective of someone who raised her daughter in the street from 1989 to 1992 — and is now a great-grandmother helping to raise her family in affordable housing.

“The problem has grown here,” Aki said. “It’s really, really bad and we have a lot of people with mental illness.”

During her three years of homelessness, Aki said she and her daughter were constantly swept, and regularly lost their possessions.

“I have a heart for the homeless because I’ve been there,” she said. “When you’re moved from place to place I know what my daughter went through at a very young age. I’m not really for sweeps because I see what it does for everyone. … But you can’t go and put your tent on the sidewalk and make people walk into the road. People need to learn to clean up their act. They can’t live like pigs and leave trash everywhere.”

Correction: Duane Kurisu is a former member of the board of directors of Oahu Publications Inc., parent company of the Star-Advertiser. An earlier version of this article and the Thursday print edition story said he was a current board member.
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