Hope for the Homeless
More shelters are being built, but advocates say it's just a start
» FIRST | SECOND | THIRD OF THREE PARTS
ON ANY GIVEN DAY, an estimated 6,000 people are homeless in Hawaii. At least a quarter of them are children, more than a quarter are working either full-time or part-time, and more than a third are native Hawaiian.
Though downtown Honolulu does not have panhandlers on nearly every street corner, the homeless are far from being invisible in paradise.
They are at beaches, parks, sleeping under highway viaducts, out of vans and trucks, and hidden in the nooks and crannies of Honolulu's urban core.
The state is spending $10.8 million to roll out an unprecedented number of new shelters, from Kakaako to Kalaeloa to Waianae.
But are shelters the answer?
Homeless service providers say it's a start, but that much more needs to be done, whether it's related to job skills, living skills, mental illness or substance abuse. Others say more of the focus should be on creating permanent affordable housing.
This three-part package by Nina Wu takes a closer look at the homeless in Hawaii:
Life in the state's new shelters
» Tomorrow: Those who opt for a life outside
» Tuesday: The working homeless
No Place to Call Home
Thousands remain homeless even as Hawaii's real estate market deflates
WHILE Hawaii's housing boom has been receding for the last year and a half, access to a home is still out of reach for most lower-income segments of the population.
Some 6,000 individuals, as of last year, are believed to be homeless in Hawaii, a quarter of them children, according to state figures.
An estimated 30 percent more are on the edge of being homeless, either camped out on someone's sofa or doubling up in a family home. And a growing number on neighbor islands are chronically homeless.
Unlike many major cities, downtown Honolulu does not have panhandlers on nearly every street corner. Ho- nolulu also has some of the most generous benefits, with a welfare check of more than $400 a month, plus food stamps and year-round warm weather.
But the homeless are far from being invisible here in paradise.
As Honolulu gets denser, and city park rules get stricter, the homeless are squeezed into more industrial and urban areas. More shelters have been set up, but demand exceeds supply.
They are forced to get creative living outdoors, whether it's under the highway viaduct, in a Chinatown doorway, the back of a truck or in the foliage of a tree across from the new John A. Burns School of Medicine.
"Nowadays, I think there are more reasons for people to be homeless," said Connie Mitchell, director of the Institute for Human Services, a nonprofit that serves needy people. "We have people who are being priced out of their homes, women who continue to be victims of domestic violence ... Sometimes people just have a situational event where their resources are exhausted, and they don't have anywhere else to turn."
Over the last two years, some 1,500 new condominium units have been built in Kakaako, with more under construction. But prices start at about $400,000 -- beyond the purchasing power of a family making 100 percent of Honolulu's median income.
That gap is highlighted by the fact that 28 percent of the homeless in Hawaii are employed at least part time.
The state is spending $10.8 million to roll out an unprecedented number of new shelters, from Kakaako to Kalaeloa to Waianae. It expects to spend $10 million more for a transitional housing complex in Maili.
Demand for a spot in shelters, meanwhile, continues to outstrip supply. Service providers are overwhelmed.
"All homeless services are at capacity and running in place," said Darlene Hein, Waikiki Health Center Care-a-van's program director.
The waiting period for government-subsidized Section 8 housing, meanwhile, can stretch on for years.
"It's not unusual that they wait over 10 years," said Section 8 branch chief Dexter Ching.
This three-part package takes a closer look at the homeless in Hawaii -- life in the shelter, those who opt for a life outside, as well as the working homeless.