New sit-lie ban takes effect as count shows homeless people are migrating west

The point in time data released offers strong evidence that crackdowns in some areas just pushing homeless into other neighborhoods.
Published: May. 11, 2023 at 5:58 PM HST|Updated: May. 11, 2023 at 7:12 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The latest count of Oahu’s homeless has found little progress in reducing the chronic problem — and more proof that the unsheltered population is moving west.

The data comes as the city is moving to force an encampment in Kalihi off the sidewalks. The latest sit-lie ordinance bans sitting, lying or camping on Kanoa Street to Pua Lane and along North King Street.

Area council member Tyler Dos Santos-Tam said the camp has been there for eight years.

He said he hopes the residents find real shelter soon.

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“The bill goes into effect on June first and between now and then I am pushing the city departments to be reaching out to them, that if they want that space it’s made available,” he said.

Along with sit-lie rules in many locations, there are crackdowns on petty crime in Waikiki and Downtown that fell heavily on the homeless.

When point-in-time volunteers surveyed the island in January, they found significant geographic changes.

From 2022, the unsheltered numbers fell 15% in Downtown and Kalihi — from 622 to 530 — and 8% in East Honolulu and Waikiki — from 575 to 528.

But on the Waianae Coast, the unsheltered population grew 48%, from 424 counted in 2022 to 630 this year.

“The sheer fact that there’s an additional 200 people that were very easy to find, during the point-in-time count that does concern us,” said Laura Thielen, executive director of Partners in Care, which organized the annual count.

Service providers aren’t certain that the new homeless in Waianae were pushed out from other areas, but they suspect so, Thielen said.

“That’s going to be our real focus over the next couple of months,” she said. “Trying to figure out what are the causes for the Waianae Coast to go up.”

Thielen said other concerns are the stubbornly high number of homeless Native Hawaiians, who make up 28% of the count, veterans that still make up 13% of the homeless and the fast-growing number of people over 60.

They made up 22% of the population this year — after only 8% last year.

“And then we’ve got so many aged individuals who are precariously housed, and if they fall into homelessness, we’ve got a huge genre of folks that we have not seen before in the homeless sector,” Thielen said, adding there are very few services available for aging homeless residents.

“What we’re really lacking in our system, is the ability to manage that long term care for individuals, especially if they have any mental health issues, along with age-related illnesses,” Thielen said.

Overall, Oahu’s homeless population grew 2% to 4,028 individuals counted on a single night in January.

Of those, there are more unsheltered homeless (2,365) than in emergency or transitional housing (1,663).

Thielen said there was 4% growth in the number of sheltered homeless with the help of pandemic relief funds, which are expected to dwindle as the emergency ends.

Along with the point-in-time snapshot, homeless service providers keep ongoing data on every person they are aware of in hopes the data will help them one day manage the chronic problem.