Five homeless people from the mainland — including a couple with family on Oahu — arrived in Honolulu over the last 10 days, perhaps drawn by cheap airfares.
The couple made contact with an Oahu homeless shelter, and are believed to have spent one night in a hotel, then time with their family before flying back to an unidentified city on the mainland, said Marc Alexander, executive director of the city’s Office of Housing.
The other three unrelated homeless people who arrived on separate flights were placed under a 14-day quarantine in a homeless shelter that Alexander declined to identify to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Alexander did not know what mainland cities they departed from. None of them showed symptoms indicating they may have been infected with the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, Alexander said.
Whether infected or not, Oahu certainly does not need any additional homeless people — especially those coming from outside Hawaii, said Stuart Ueda, who lives in the Ala Moana area and sees homeless people every day.
“Local people have so much hospitality, but there’s a breaking point,” Ueda said. “I wish we could help them, but I know so many people who are already laid off. … The aloha spirit can only go so far.”
Alexander said there is no evidence to support the oft- repeated belief that a city, county or state government on the mainland paid for the airfares for the five homeless people who recently arrived.
From March 26 — when Gov. David Ige’s quarantine order went into effect — until Tuesday, 1,067 visitors flew into the islands, where they faced a 14-day quarantine, according to Tim Sakahara, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.
In addition, flights for the same period carried 2,230 returning Hawaii residents, Sakahara said.
The flights also included 359 “intended residents” who arrived on Oahu, who could have included people joining their families, college students returning home or Hawaii expats who became unemployed on the mainland by the coronavirus pandemic, Sakahara said.
On Wednesday an additional 664 passengers arrived on 22 flights across the state, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Among them were 120 visitors.
All arriving passengers face the same 14-day quarantine.
For both visitors and homeless people on the mainland, Alexander said, “The message is don’t come here. Quarantine, isolate, stay in place, stay in shelter, stay stable.”
Alexander said he believes the five homeless people who recently arrived may have been attracted “by the draw of Hawaii and a cheap ticket and the belief that geography solves problems. The best thing we can do to help each other is to stay put.”
The three mainland homeless people who were quarantined are placing additional strain on a homeless shelter system already at capacity.
Oahu’s two largest shelters can no longer accept any new clients, Alexander said.
City and state officials Wednesday opened Hawaii’s first triage and quarantine center for homeless people behind the Institute for Human Services’ women’s shelter in Iwilei.
In an email, Alexander wrote to the Star-Advertiser, “This situation makes the self-quarantining required for all new arrivals extremely challenging and poses significant risk of introducing community spread COVID-19 into our communities or those living unsheltered. Honolulu cannot continue to bring in new arrivals during this period.”