The Debrief: Why ‘deeply affordable housing’ could help solve Hawaii’s homeless crisis
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - According to data collected last year, nearly 6,000 people experienced homelessness in the islands — with the vast majority of those being residents and 1 in 4 being Native Hawaiians.
With homelessness still proving to be a chronic problem, state Sen. Joy San Buenaventura and state Rep. John Mizuno sat down with HNN on “The Debrief” to discuss this issue and what is being done to help those in need.
“Although it’s very easy to see the people on the streets, they’re the ones causing the most trouble, are the ones with mental issues, with addiction problems. Really, a vast majority of those who are houseless are those who have some form of income but just can’t afford the rent in Honolulu,” San Buenaventura explained.
“We don’t have a higher amount of addiction or behavioral health issues, which you would think would lead to homeless. What we do have is this huge wage gap.”
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Buenaventura represents the Puna district on Hawaii Island. She broke down an example of housing there versus the urban core of Oahu.
“The reason we have seen the rise in homeless is because of the lack of deeply affordable housing. In Hilo, the average rent for a three-bedroom is $2,000, whereas in the urban core in Honolulu, the average rent for a studio or 526 square feet is $2,600,” she said.
“So, a family who could afford $2,000 per month in rent can house in Hilo on the east side, a three-bedroom where they can house siblings, parents, kids. Whereas in the urban core, you can only afford the studio — you cannot house extended family.”
“You know, if we really want to tackle the problem, we need deeply affordable housing,” San Buenaventura emphasized.
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Meanwhile, on Oahu, Mizuno, who represents the Kalihi area, said there has been more reports of homeless individuals in his district.
“There has been a spike in homelessness in our district, but we’re doing our best to try to address this and try to find shelter or a nice transition for them,” Mizuno said. “Again, it’s not against the law to be homeless, but unfortunately it does sometimes affect the the surrounding residents.”
One encampment that has raised concerns among residents is on the hillside of DeCorte Neighborhood Park in Kalihi Valley.
“There’s been an uptick in crime in Kalihi Valley, so that’s another concern. But yes, homelessness is very prevalent — and my district is no different than many other districts,” Mizuno said.
Meanwhile, the state and counties are working to curb homelessness.
The two lawmakers cite a variety of projects, including transitional kauhale villages in which one features a medical respite, Ohana zones and the “Return-to-Home Program,” which sends select out-of-state homeless individuals back to their home state.
“All of these points that we brought up need to be worked efficiently to really reduce homelessness,” Mizuno said.
“Are we going to eliminate it? No. Again, is this a silver bullet to end homelessness in Hawaii? No, it’s not. We’re being realistic. But if we can reduce it significantly and get better results, then at the end of the day, I think we did a good job.”
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