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The Hawaiian Homelessness Crisis

Hawaii may be a dream destination for many non-Natives, but the homelessness crisis resulting from the tourism industry is a constant threat for Native Hawaiians. As the cost of living on the islands continues to rise, so does the population of those without housing. If we do not make genuine efforts to stop this crisis, Hawaiian culture may be lost forever.

When the average person thinks of life in the state of Hawaii, they imagine a paradise of beaches, warm air, and breathtaking scenery. However, the real threat of being without housing is a constant presence for those living in Hawaii. Hawaii is currently one of the states in the US with the highest rates of per capita homelessness, with 44.9 people without housing per 10,000 people.

Unhoused Hawaiians face high rates of mental illness, addiction, and PTSD. Therefore, the life expectancy for an individual without housing in the state is 53 years, almost 30 years less than the general population. It is also crucial to note that homelessness disproportionately impacts Native Hawaiians who suffer from the housing crisis in much higher proportions than non-natives.

With a constantly booming tourism industry on the Hawaiian islands, one may wonder what is causing the almost 15,000 people to be without housing. One significant part is that as Hawaiian life becomes more desirable to outsiders, the cost of living rises. This has pushed many Hawaiians off their property who can not keep up with the increasing prices.

Along with this, the cost of food went up by 35% in 2015 alone, gasoline prices continue to increase with little to no options for public transportation, and the cost of electricity is 33% higher in Hawaii than in the rest of the United States. When pairing these factors with the fact that 60% of jobs on the islands pay less than $20 an hour, and ⅔ of jobs pay less than $15 an hour, it is easy to see why Hawaiians are struggling financially and are facing threats of lost housing. Experts estimate that up to half of the Hawaiian citizens are just one to two paychecks away from homelessness.

Despite only accounting for 20% of the population, Native Hawaiians make up half of Hawaii’s homeless population, according to the 2020 Oahu Point-In-Time Count. Natives lost sovereignty over their own land in 1893 and are now facing their removal from the land through tourism and the increased cost of living. They are excluded from economic opportunities and are less able to support themselves and their family on their land. As a result, many Natives are leaving Hawaii. Their inability to sustain life on the islands is not just a threat to a few people’s livelihoods, but it is a threat to the entire culture. Hawaiian culture exists nowhere else; if we continue to allow the government to remove natives from their land, Hawaiian language, cuisine, and values will be forever lost. Adequate and affordable housing can not only save lives, but it can save entire cultures.

There have been effective movements and solutions to combat the ever-present homelessness crisis in Hawaii. One example would be the Kahauiki Village, a small community for individuals and families without housing and which is within walking distance of employment opportunities. There are other small communities similar to this on Oahu at Kalauloa, Waimanalo, and Nimitz. These community-oriented housing solutions follow a traditional cultural model of communal housing. Most importantly, they were made possible by cooperation between business and nonprofit leaders, the government, and labor from volunteers.

There is no one quick solution to resolving the homelessness crisis globally, nor is there in Hawaii. Instead, collaboration is required from various organizations and individuals who must be dedicated to ending the suffering of the unhoused. Native Hawaiians who are disproportionately impacted by this crisis are dealing with more than the loss of a house but the looming threat of a lost culture. Accesible housing allows for greater health, prosperity, and the ability to pass down values for generations. Therefore, we should focus on Native Hawaiians before it is too late.

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