HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - It’s a place where rush hour doesn’t exist and family-owned businesses are all that line the streets of town.
Molokai is home to a little more than 7,300 people. And everybody knows everybody.
Or, at least, that’s the way it used to be.
But since late last year, residents say, they’ve noticed a change: They’re finding more and more homeless squatters drifting around the island after getting a one-way ticket there.
“We don’t even know these guys. We haven’t seen them. Period," said Friendly Market Manager PJ Augustiro.
Added community leader Barbara Haliniak, “I even see them sleeping around the store front. We never had that before."
It’s not as if Molokai never had homeless people. But residents say they were all longtime Molokai residents.
“We kind of accepted the fact that they wanted to live away from their families. You didn’t see them at all,” Haliniak said.
Because Molokai isn’t included in the statewide homeless point-in-time count, there’s no official data on how many homeless people are on the island.
But residents put the number at about 40.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green spent a week traveling the state to see firsthand how Hawaii’s homeless crisis is affecting each island. And on Molokai, he found an island struggling to figure out how to handle an influx of new arrivals ― some of whom come with no housing and no intentions of getting it.
“It’s a really bad problem,” Augustiro told Green. “They always come flocking down first thing in the morning. Caught one of them stealing twice in one day alcohol.”
The problems go beyond shoplifting.
Resident Kevin Misaki says he recently had to hire a contractor to haul some old cars off his land after he noticed the property had been trashed.
"A lot of the homeless were using it to sleep at night. Or party," said Misaki.
It’s a shift that’s caught many in the community off guard.
Zhantell Lindo has been working with Molokai’s homeless for about two years.
“Up until that time, we only thought we had one homeless person here,” said Lindo.
She added the last thing Molokai needs is a homeless shelter. And that seems to be a consensus on Molokai.
“Because it’s an invitation," Haliniak said. “Go to Molokai, they have a shelter they can take care of you.”
What they do want are places where people can get drug treatment and where the mentally ill can get help. Another suggestion is to relax some of the housing laws.
“We get huge (agriculture) properties that are restricted by the size of house you can live in and then you got to go through all the expense of subdividing," Lindo said.
“But what if you just made it easy for people to live?”
It’s an option the island’s state representative is looking into. She also wants Molokai’s homeless to be included in the federal point-in-time count.
Those numbers determine how much money the county receives to address the problem.
“Regardless of whether the numbers are 40 or 100, they still need to be accounted for,” said state Rep. Lynn DeCoite.
In the meantime, residents can’t help but be wary as they ponder the future of their tiny island.
“There’s a lot of aloha here on Molokai and, of course, we welcome everybody,” said resident Rosie Davis.
“But there comes a point where we have to say, ‘What about our people here on this island?' We have to take care of our own.”
Correction: Last week, during a special report about homelessness in Hawaii, we misidentified a woman on Molokai as being homeless. That woman was actually on the island working on a farm in exchange for housing, and we regret the error.