Hawaii Declares State of Emergency Over Homelessness Crisis

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Governor David Ige has officially declared a state of emergency in Hawaii. The declaration is in response to the state’s homelessness crisis, as Hawaii has the highest rate of homelessness in the country. The state of emergency will allow the state to aid this large population by rapidly channeling money into confronting the problem head-on.

Hawaii’s rate of homelessness is 465 individuals per 100,000 people. All said and done, there are just under 8,000 homeless individuals total. While that might seem like a relatively small number, given Hawaii’s population, it makes for a large per capita total. HOPE Services Hawaii, a non-profit that works with the state’s homeless, estimates that 11 percent of the homeless population are children, 14 percent are veterans, and 32 percent are of Native Hawaiian ethnicity.

One of the most tangible ways in which the state has attempted to combat the homelessness crisis came in the form of a clean out of one of the state’s largest homeless encampments in Kaka’ako. Since August, 54 percent of the homeless population living in Kaka’ako has been moved into shelters or temporary housing. Ige intends that the clearing of Kaka’ako be used as a model for transitioning other encampments.

The emergency declaration will allow that process to be sped up. According to a press release put out by the governor’s office:

State funds of more than $1.3 million were identified this month, paving the way for the emergency proclamation. The monies will serve an additional 1000 homeless individuals between now and July 31, 2016, providing increased funding for homeless services and programs that promote permanent housing for families and the chronically homeless.

The emergency proclamation will also facilitate the construction of a transitional housing facility for homeless families. The facility will be temporary and have a clear sunset date.

Hawaii is also being relatively innovative when it comes to how it will be housing the homeless population. Russ Wozniak, one of the architects for the transitional housing units that are being created, explained that they are being created from old shipping containers, and have plenty of ventilation. They also will be insulated and situated in ways that keep the housing cool.

While it may seem extreme to some to declare a state of emergency in this situation, it makes a lot of sense. It will expedite the solution to a very real, very important problem in Hawaii. As Scott Morishige, who is working for Ige on this issue, stated: “This proclamation will expedite the state’s plans to help these individuals and families to more quickly transition to permanent housing.” The goal is certainly admirable; it will be interesting to see the results.

Anneliese Mahoney
Anneliese Mahoney is Managing Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at



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