The Unique Problem of Homelessness in Hawaii

The Unique Problem of Homelessness in Hawaii

Working with Diverse Populations

In Hawaii, homelessness is a major ongoing social issue that impacts a diverse population. Prejudices towards the homeless are unique in Hawaii because they are often aimed at blaming other states for the large numbers of the homeless. The reality of homelessness in Hawaii is that the problem's roots in economic and social factors that are often ignored because of biased thinking.

Courtesy USICH, 2020

Courtesy USICH, 2020

The large number of homeless individuals in Hawaii are disproportionately Native Hawaiian. Other demographics include veterans and young adults of all ages. These individuals speak English and typically suffer high rates of mental illness, addiction, and PTSD. Hawaiian homeless have an average life expectancy of 53 years of age (USICH, 2020). Challenges facing human service workers in Hawaii range include limited resources such as shelters, section 8 funding, and affordable apartments (Homelessness Initiative, 2018). Workers must routinely turn away individuals who need assistance due to lack of resources.

Healthcare presents another challenge because a large number of homeless persons require medical attention for ongoing issues either physical or mental (USICH, 2020). This creates a tremendous issue because it increases the risk of chronic homelessness in those individuals needing mental health services. Oddly enough, one of the chief issues adding to this already difficult social issue is a bias stemming from an urban myth.

Despite the fact that the largest percentage of Hawaii’s homeless are native to Hawaii, there is a persistent belief these individuals come from the mainland. In fact, many Hawaiians believe other states send their homeless to Hawaii. There has never been any truth to this rumor but it probably stems from the fact that, 

16 percent — or 1,767 — of the homeless people seeking benefits and services from the state report living in Hawaii for less than five years. And of that number, 615 have been here in Hawaii just a year or less (Fawcett, 2016).

These homeless individuals are likely people who moved to Hawaii and lost their job or were poorly prepared for the higher cost of living. The longstanding prejudices stemming from the urban myth impacts how resources are used and money is allocated towards homelessness. For example, a bill has repeatedly been in the legislature that would provide funding to return homeless to their place of origin. This solution might work in the short term, but clearly, this will not work in the long run since people continue to move to Hawaii for many different reasons, and funding could be better utilized for jobs or housing. Blaming the victim is tremendous issue in Hawaii as it limits areas for placing shelters as well as reducing already scarce resources.

Human service agencies need to be educate themselves and the public to the fact that homelessness is a public health crisis not a criminal or wrongdoing. The most effective education strategy is to have ongoing discussions to review the complex issues of tourism, lack of adequate education, housing market, and other factors impacting homelessness to combat the enduring myth of the mainland exporting homeless.


Fawcett, D. (2016, February 23). 5 Myths About Homelessness in Hawaii. Retrieved from Honolulu Civil Beat:

Homelessness Initiative. (2018). State Framework to Address Homelessness. Retrieved from Homelessness Initiative:

USICH. (2020). Hawaii Homelessness Statistics. Retrieved from United States Interagency Council on Homelessness:

Article Updated: 10/20/2021


Triola Vincent. Mon, Mar 08, 2021. The Unique Problem of Homelessness in Hawaii Retrieved from

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