Since early August, nearly 100 people including 12 families previously living on Kakaako streets have been moved to shelters and other types of housing. By summer 2016, up to 20 modular units will be constructed on Oahu’s leeward coast as temporary housing for 75-90 people in families now living in tents near the Waianae Boat Harbor. Estimates are that there are up to 600 homeless people, including children, in just these two regions alone.
So far, Housing First efforts to place up to 75 individuals (state funds) and 115 households (Honolulu city funds) by the end of October would accommodate only about 2 percent of Hawai‘i’s homeless population. The Sand Island shelter will house 100 individuals, but not families with children. Pets will be allowed, so some dogs and cats will have a roof over their heads when so many children continue to be homeless.
In August, the state Public Housing Authority discussed prioritizing its waiting list for homeless families with children over adults, with the goal of ending homelessness for children. It could take as much as a year for the formal process of changing the authority’s rules to allow this. Other possibilities for families include building on a small industrial plot at Pier 38 and renovating a building on Nimitz Highway—not exactly child-oriented neighborhoods.
Hawai‘i’s “Homeless Point-In-Time Count” reports that the number of “unsheltered children” homeless increased on Oahu and the Big Island by 18% and 180% respectively in 2014. Only Kauai reported a decline in children living unsheltered: rather than looking to the mainland for advice, we should ask Kauai. As for the total number of homeless children, the Homeless Service Utilization data from UH and Hawai‘i’s Department of Human Services reports that one-fourth of the 14,282 homeless persons statewide accessing services in 2014 were children. That’s approximately 3,570 children living without permanent housing. Hawai‘i is heading for 2,000 foreclosures in 2015; how many will be resident families joining the ranks of the homeless?
For children, homelessness has devastating effects physically, developmentally, socio-emotionally, and educationally. Living homeless is not safe for children. Poverty already puts children in harm’s way: research documents that these risks multiply for those who are also homeless. In infancy and early childhood, homelessness affects developing brains, health, emotional well-being, and school readiness. During the school years, homelessness causes stress, disrupts school attendance, and a 3-5 month achievement decline with every school change. Homeless children are twice as likely to develop learning disabilities, repeat a grade, and be suspended from school; 50% experience depression and anxiety. One in five preschoolers requires professional care for emotional problems. Homeless children disproportionately experience malnutrition, ear infections, environmental toxin exposure, and chronic illnesses like asthma. Homeless teens are less likely to finish school and more likely to be in the criminal justice system. Unless abuse is involved, it would be unfair to remove homeless children from their families—leaving them with neither a home nor parents.
For families, one root of the problem is the lack of affordable housing. The parade of advertising for obscenely priced condos in formerly affordable areas is clearly not targeting typical families. The state controls 1.54 million acres statewide and 85,000 acres on Oahu alone; surely some of this land could accommodate affordable housing, such as the 80 buildable acres of residential-zoned land at Waimano Ridge.
It is unconscionable to allow children to be homeless. Permanent housing for families with children needs to be our top priority. We may also need a moratorium on building more luxury housing without simultaneous development of affordable housing for typical families.
Luanna H. Meyer
Brief bio published by the Star Advertiser in October 2015 with the above op-ed:
Luanna H. Meyer, Ph.D., of Hawaii Kai, is an education professor emerita of Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand; she also has been a professor of the universities of Hawaii, Minnesota and Syracuse.