*Originally published on RYOT.org on October 19th, 2015 by Sean Sawyer*
Hawaii has declared a state of emergency, but it’s not because of an epic storm or natural disaster; it’s due to homelessness.
The state’s emergency proclamation is in response to one of the nation’s largest homeless shelters, the Kakaako homeless encampment, being cleared out. With its closure, hundreds of people have been displaced.
Now, the Hawaiian government is rapidly funneling money to push for the rapid construction of a temporary shelter for homeless families, the immediate extension of existing contracts for homeless service, and an urgent increase in funding for programs that promote immediate housing, according to a press release.
Hawaii will dip into an account of $1.3 million in available funds to help serve the homeless.
“We are making sure that we have options for those who are homeless to move into an emergency shelter, and the biggest deficit in the system is shelter space for families,” Hawaiian Gov. David Ige said. “So the emergency proclamation would allow us to stand up shelters for families in an expeditious manner.”
Of those cleared out of the Kakaako encampment, about half of the estimated 300 residents have found temporary homes in new shelters developed by the state since the emergency proclamation on Friday. “They definitely are off the streets and in a better situation where we are in a position to provide them services that will help us move them permanently out of the state of homelessness,” Ige noted.
Hawaii has the worst homelessness crisis in America, recently highlighted by RYOT’s Christian Stephen. Ige said that per 100,000 people, Hawaii has 465 homeless individuals, which makes it the highest rate of homelessness per capita among the 50 states. An estimated 7,260 people in Hawaii are homeless. And this number is only growing. According to Scott Morishige, Hawaii’s homelessness coordinator, the island state saw a 23 percent increase in its unsheltered homeless population between 2014 and 2015, and a 46 percent increase in the number of unsheltered families.
Lawmakers are also offering anyone without a home a one-way ticket back to the mainland. They see this as an alternative and radical solution to reduce the Hawaiian homeless population and a way to reunite separated families.