Saturday, May 22, 2010

Homeless in Hawaii

oahu-homeless-tents


Did you catch this story on NPR last week? I can't stop thinking about it! And if I ever face being homeless [horrors!], I know I'll head straight for Hawaii!


A tourist in Hawaii spends an average of $200 a day for a hotel room, meals and entertainment. But there's another class of visitors given room and board, full health care benefits and more for just $3 a day. It's not a luxury vacation package — just homeless benefits courtesy of Hawaii's taxpayers.

At the Sumner Homeless Men's Shelter in downtown Honolulu — less than a mile from Honolulu Harbor, where luxury cruise ships are docked — shelter operations assistant Alfred Ho'opi'i tells guests to line up for their lunch.

"The majority of people that I can see here are from the mainland," he says. "You have your locals, but not too many."

The meal is chopped beef steak with vegetables, mashed potatoes, bread, a fresh apple and cake. Ho'opi'i and his volunteers serve from 750 to 900 meals a day at the three shelters operated by the nonprofit Institute for Human Services.

The shelters' resident population has increased 10 percent in the past year, and one-third of all the guests — 1,300 annually — come from out of state.

Gary Phillips purchased a $400 airline ticket to Hawaii three months ago. He was homeless in San Diego for years, but is now earning cash from Hawaii's 5-cent redemption program for plastic bottles and aluminum cans.

"I recycle here," he says. "I make money doing that." Some days, over $40, he says.

And he sleeps at the IHS shelter for $3 a day, with three free meals, $200 worth of food stamps and the state's free health care program.

"I went to the dentist today, and I had a tooth pulled," Phillips says. "It cost me nothing."

The shelter's annual operating budget of $2 million is funded largely by state taxpayers. Connie Mitchell is executive director. She says 28 percent of her shelter and food budget is spent on new arrivals from the mainland.

"We are a tourist destination that attracts people who are homeless or people who have resources, and that's something that we really can't control," Mitchell says. "But I think that if people do want to take up that particular lifestyle, that it shouldn't be at the public's expense."

Meanwhile, Hawaiian taxpayers face a $1.2 billion budget deficit, which is being addressed in part with deferred state tax refunds and deferred Medicaid reimbursements.

Honolulu's homeless demographic — on the streets and in shelters — is changing. The University of Hawaii's Center on the Family estimates the city's homeless street population has shifted from being 21 percent Caucasian in 2005 to more than 43 percent today.

Many are single, middle-aged men from the mainland, like former computer programmer Gary Titleman.

"Well, I was kind of homeless in Flagstaff and Prescott [Arizona], and a guy told me that you could go to Hawaii for $150, so I had some savings and bought a ticket," he says.

He chooses to work odd jobs at minimum wage. Soon it will be time to move on.

"Well, I may go to Alaska during the summer," he said. "Also go back to the mainland. I'm originally from Virginia, but I moved out West a while back. So who knows?"

Connie Mitchell says the resource drain caused by newly arrived single male transients is getting more acute. She says Hawaiian lawmakers need to develop policies to address this problem.

"I think that we really need to begin to look at who's really homeless — not by choice and by misfortune — and who's really homeless by choice, and have a different solution for the two different populations."



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28 comments:

uglygirl said...

Full health care! Does that mean if you have a job but no insurance and you get sick, then you're better off quitting your job and moving to Hawaii?

ticklishfromadistance said...

Wow. Really wow. I am so posting this. Linking it, whatever the hell. Amazing.

Brooke said...

Hmmm....Looks like I'm buying a tent and inflatable mattress and heading to Hawaii. We'll call it an extended vacation. Kind of like backpacking through Europe, except I'm going to be homeless in Hawaii.

TERI REES WANG said...

That's an old trick. States all over the U.S. ship off their unwanted, with a one way ticket to Waikiki, knowing it's not likely they will ever make their way back.

Years ago, folks would hitch hike to sunny California because they had heard their was free fruit from every tree and gold coins laying in the street.

But, Yes Hawaii takes care of Ohana/Family and if you land an the islands, you are treated as family.

Old Chinatown in Honolulu is filled with random refugees camping out along the canal, peeing in the streets. They take over at night, a run for the beaches during the day, so not to disturb the paying folks.

There is not much pan-handling on any of the islands. There is however, a huge rate of obesity.

You can watch "Dog the Bounty Hunter" to get a clear picture of the Honolulu streets.

Dancing Branflake said...

This is crazy! So many issues that need to be addressed here. Oh dear, let me stop before I start ranting.

Georgina said...

People from back east in Canada come to Vancouver for the same reason. The temperature is milder here. While there are many people who are genuinely hurting,poor and homeless, there are many young kids from the burbs (mostly white and able-bodied) who do it for 'fun'. - G

Andhari said...

I can imagine Hawaii is flooded by all kinds of people wanting to have a good time but not paying for stuff..wow. sounds pretty wrong.

akka b. said...

Okay Okay... I'll go.

Le Sigh of a Fashionista said...

I'm coming with. That's just great.

Christiejolu said...

I am with you! If I ever end up homeless I am going there...how will I get there? I have no idea! Aside from that though Hawaii would just be a beautiful place to be homeless....

...love Maegan said...

um, yeah, for free health care and internet access, I'd totally do it.

Char said...

wow....just wow

ashlina {the decorista} said...

hi hunny! thanks for the follow. i adore your blog...that rasberry purse is out of control. luuv it! :)

xo
ashlina

Emelie - C'est LA vie said...

Fascinating stuff... it makes me glad to read that America isn't all about survival of the fittest all the time and everywhere...

Have a lovely weekend! x

Heather Taylor said...

Maybe I'd do it? I really can't see myself as a homeless person though, considering that right now I have 5 suitcases surrounding me at all times stuffed with clothes and shoes. Being a drifter doesn't work when you love fashion.

erin@designcrisis said...

I lived there for 5 years. There are a zillion homeless there, but almost zero pan handlers. Because they don't need to.

Sadly, though, a lot of the homeless are completely wackadoodle crazytown people that got shipped to the islands by mainland facilities.

Caroline said...

Holy crap! I had no idea....

tulpen said...

that's insanity.

Asylum Dolly said...

Wow!. I think it's quite amazing that there are places in the world where people actually GIVE A SHIT about their homeless.Being poor shouldn't mean you don't have the right to be healthy. It's a basic human right i think. That's quite awesome. But yeah, it does kind of open up the floodgates for people just looking to take advantage of the kindness and use it as an opportunity for a free holiday. The last few lines of this post sum it up!

The Zhush said...

I had NO idea! Didn't hear this on NPR, thanks for posting here.

Sassy Pants Freckle Face said...

WOW!! This Is WHY I stopped my NonProfit, becase even though I was helping I was being taken advantage of while I struggled to pay own bills,... AWFUL!

Krystal said...

i am with ya!

Iva said...

he didn't pay anything at the visit to the dentist?! I'm packing! :)

bananas. said...

Ahh hawaii...everything's always better in hawaii :)

Lorena said...

How interesting, I had not heard of this.
When I see taxes being raised (we just had a huge home owner's tax increase) and me trying to make ends meet it just kills me to see this-
Call me selfish but I just do not think it is fair.
Most of these people are healthy and can do manual work.

Rachel Elizabeth said...

This is shocking! When did people start thinking it was OK to just get things from the government instead of getting them for yourself. I'm glad I don't live in Hawaii!

Rachel
http://vivelagoos.blogspot.com/
http://fashionmessiah.blogspot.com/

Diana said...

Wow. This makes me sad people take advantage.

executive training said...

God, this is an amazing story! I would gather all homeless people in the world and organize a place for them in Hawaii! So there is at leas place on Earth that can be called "fair".