Homeless chose shores instead of shelters

Debra Simmons
Debra Simmons
Joseph Lapilio
Joseph Lapilio
Glenn Martin
Glenn Martin

By Jason Tang - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Nearly 15,000 people are without permanent shelter in Hawaii.  That's nearly double than a decade ago and the problem's only getting worse.

And that's only the homeless population we know about. There are others living in trees, bushes and on beaches that are unaccounted for.

On Oahu, there are about eight shelters with a total capacity of about 4,000.

A portion of Kapiolani Park was just shut down last week as part of a movement to close public areas to the homeless.

The problem is in your face, in your neighborhood, in your community, it's an island and state issue.

Oahu's Leeward Coast is often considered a sight for sore eyes. This isn't the Holiday Inn, but for Debra Simmons, it's home.

"I'm not an animal, I won't be herded anywhere," Simmons said.

She has daughters on the island with homes, but she's been out here three years.

"She's got her own family, she's got two children, a husband and so mom doesn't want to be under her feet," said Simmons.

Or under the roof of one of the island's shelters. Everyone out there has their own reasons.

"Substance issues they have to deal with, mental illness issues and there are people with pets who've had them for years and years," said Ulu Ke Kukui Director Joseph Lapilio

Ulu Ke Kukui is a new $14 million transitional home that houses up to 400. It opened in December. Glenn Martin is in one of it's job training programs after years on the streets.

"Homeless a couple times, no job, I couldn't keep a job. You just have to go out there and look for it, there are a lot of opportunities for everybody," said job training program participant Glenn Martin.

Simmons says not everyone wants to follow the rules. Shelters enforce strict no drinking,smoking,substance abuse policies.

But Simmons isn't into any of that, she's dying of emphysema.

"I don't know how much time I have but the time I have I want to be able to enjoy it, do what I want to do and how I want to do it," said Simmons.

"Those who really want to go into shelters at this point have gone into shelters, so we've got a different layer of people to contend with," said Lapilio.

As the city and county continues to systematically close public areas, experts say it only suspends and not solves the homeless problem.

Instead of shutting down areas and making them move from place to place, experts say the state needs to focus on providing education, job and economic development opportunities to these people. They say only then will it start to get better.