The harsh reality of homelessness in Hawaii is a difficult one. On each island, families are forced to sleep in tents on beaches, hidden in lava, and camping in public parks. Homeless parents work full time while their children do their homework under the light of a flashlight, in cars parked in towns and cities. In an effort to provide assistance to those in need, the Walter Cameron Center in Wailuku has become the headquarters of a new pilot program.
This one-year trial will allow homeless people to use the parking lot as a safe place to sleep during the night. Unlike street camps in downtown Honolulu or Waikiki, the camp has a large number of families, including 45 children. And while other camps scattered around the islands are dismantled and their residents are displaced at regular intervals, the Borge camp has endured, which some attribute to his leadership. In response to what the governor called a state of emergency, Honolulu passed strict criminal laws aimed at eliminating homeless people from sidewalks, streets, and parks. The United States Department of Justice filed a brief last summer asking a federal court to overturn an order from Boise (Idaho) that prohibited sleeping in public places, arguing that anti-camping rules in a city where there were not enough shelters violated constitutional provisions against cruel and unusual punishment. It is now possible to spend hours wandering around Waikiki and Chinatown, two historic neighborhoods where hundreds of homeless people once settled, and find just an occasional reminder that Hawaii has the largest homeless population per capita in the country.
In interviews, homeless men and women demonstrated a mastery of the intricacies of state and city laws, how some sidewalks are covered and others are not, and how beaches open at 5 in the morning. This followed laws that allowed authorities to confiscate the belongings of homeless people left in public spaces and that closed many parks and beaches at night. In Honolulu, the most recent law on homelessness made it illegal to sit or lie on sidewalks, with criminal penalties if warnings are ignored in Waikiki, the tourist district and in Chinatown. Some social workers say that the idea of enforcing the law makes it easier to convince homeless people to try spending a night in a shelter bed or to enter a drug treatment program. Hawaii, long America's vacation paradise, is facing an emergency as it grapples with its homeless crisis. To help those affected by this crisis, Maui County is launching a program that will allow homeless people to sleep in their cars overnight in a county parking lot on J Street.
Despite applauding the changes in Waikiki, Governor David Ige said that the crackdown was not the answer to the homeless crisis.