HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The number of people traveling to Oahu and then ending up homeless is growing, according to a new report from the state’s largest homeless service provider.
The Institute for Human Services says 209 people from across the mainland showed up at one of its shelters last year looking for help. That’s up from 165 people in 2017.
The vast majority were single men, many of whom had been on the island less than three months.
One of them was Craig Johnson. He arrived in Hawaii aboard a cruise ship that he’d been working on.
After pulling into Honolulu Harbor last March, he traded his job with Norwegian for a fresh start in the islands.
“Oh yeah, I was very excited,” said Johnson.
He says he had about $4,000 in savings — what he thought was enough to find a place to live and carry him through until he could line up a new job.
He wasn’t expecting for everything to be so expensive.
“By the time you pay a deposit and first month’s rent and all, you have nothing left,” said Johnson.
For the first time, the 46-year-old was homeless. After spending a few months on the street, he checked into an IHS shelter last month.
His story isn’t uncommon.
“What we’re really seeing with a lot of these clients is they don’t really have a safety net,” said IHS spokesman Kimo Carvalho.
He says about 10 percent of the state’s homeless population recently traveled to Hawaii from somewhere else.
Among the top reasons they come: They’re looking for a fresh start, to pursue a job or to take advantage of the state’s healthcare services.
The influx of new arrivals, many of whom were turning up on the streets of Waikiki, led to the creation of the IHS Airline Relocation Program.
“Our relocation program assists homeless individuals who are currently stuck here in Hawaii with relocating back to the mainland or where ever they are from,” Carvalho said.
Last year, a total of 128 people took advantage of the program.
Donations from Hawaii’s tourism industry are used to cover half the airfare while the client is responsible the rest.
Before take-off, the shelter confirms they’ve lined up a permanent place to stay.
“We verify that they have a safety net so we’re not just shipping people to be homeless somewhere else," said Carvalho. "We also ask them to pay for at least half of their airline ticket so that way they have some skin in the game in making sure they follow through with their plan.”
The report shows that last year the majority of people used the program wound up returning to their home states on the West Coast. The next most popular destinations were the South and the Midwest.
Despite being homeless, Johnson said he’s still optimistic.
“I’m glad I did get here,” said Johnson.
With no interest in heading home to Louisiana, he’s not certain where he’ll end up.
For now, he working ― and saving ― determined not to make the same mistake twice.
“I can’t go nowhere the way I am right now. I’d be starting right back over again,” said Johnson.