When the surveyors for a recent Gallup poll interviewed residents for their Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey – that found Hawaii to be the happiest state – it seems they may have forgotten to survey some of the 26,000 homeless people living throughout the islands.
The city hopes that evicting the homeless from the streets will push them to move into shelters and take the next step toward getting off the street. But many homeless say that the sweeps of parks and streets where they live has, in fact, made some move further away from the areas where they have access to electricity, water, and public transportation.
Last month’s Keaau Beach Park cleanup is just one example of the unresolved tensions between the homeless and the city. Over 200 people were evicted from Keaau Beach, and while some did finally take up residence in shelters, according to the Star Advertiser, about a third moved further away, relocating to undeveloped valleys and an area known as “the Bush”.
Many of those that remain homeless are children, who have no choice in the matter, but rather are forced to go where their parents go. Some homeless, even with children, refuse to move into shelters, asserting that they are better off homeless than in a shelter. Erica Leialoha, most recently living with her 6-year-old daughter in a tent in Kakaako, expressed concern over moving into a shelter, stating that they are overcrowded and unsafe.
Others claim that they are actually happy homeless. “I love it: free rent, free electricity,” Sherri Watson, 43, told the New York Times. “Who wants to stay in a bed-bugged shelter?”
If the only alternative to living outdoors is an unsanitary, overcrowded, unsafe shelter, then certainly one might be “happy” to remain homeless. But what if the alternative was a safe, clean, temporary place such as Utu Langi’s bus project? Or better yet, affordable housing?
People are quick to point the finger, blaming the city for the lack of support and options, while others blame the homeless for their circumstances, labeling them drug addicts and alcoholics. But what if we stopped blaming anybody and took a different approach?
Homelessness is a community problem that we must work together to resolve. Parents on the street need to put the needs and safety of their children first and move into a shelter, rather than moving further away from human services and basic sanitary conditions. This is a temporary sacrifice for longer-term happiness for themselves and their children. Meanwhile, the city must do their part and work to create access to affordable housing for those that need it most. If they enforce stricter requirements and regulations on low income housing, they are likely to find that some people currently living in this type of housing can afford to move on, opening up the space for those who truly need it. In addition, the government must reinstate the funding for human services – particularly for family planning and domestic violence – which has been cut as of March 31, 2011 (Source). And residents can contact Hawaii Helping the Hungry Have Hope or a local church to find out how to support nonprofit human services for the homeless. If we work together, perhaps one day Hawaii can hold the title of the “Happiest State in the Nation”, without having to sweep the homeless under the proverbial rug or send them further into “the bush”.