We’ll go out on a limb here and say homelessness sucks. But what about the homeless in someplace beautiful, like Hawaii? With its temperate weather, gorgeous beaches, and plentiful marijuana, it’s basically hobo-Valhalla. In 2015, Hawaii declared a state of emergency, not from a tsunami or a volcano or a ghastly blue alien running amok until he learned the value of family, but from an overabundance of homeless people. We got in contact with Mark and Kenyon, who have been homeless in Honolulu since 2012. They told us …
#6. The Government Will Fly The Homeless Out Of Hawaii
The homeless in Hawaii come from one of three places: locals who’ve hit hard times, people who moved to Hawaii to get work and lost it, and homeless who have purposely come to Hawaii to avoid cold winters.
Mark came from the second category: “I came to Hawaii with a bartending job waiting for me and $5,000 in my bank account. Within five months, my hotel had laid me off and I was out of my apartment.”
“Well, guess it’s time to pack up the car and drive back ho- oh.”
Kenyon fell into the third category: “I’d been living either on the street or on a couch all summer and part of the fall in Louisville, [Kentucky,] and I didn’t want to face the winter living under an overpass in an upturned shopping buggy. I bit the bullet, sold my Gibson guitar, and flew out to Hawaii. I knew of others who hit rock bottom and stayed on the beach in Hawaii, and I figured if I was going to be homeless this winter, I might as well go to Hawaii.”
While Mark and Kenyon both figured on staying in Hawaii for a bit, neither have left — much like thousands of homeless people from the mainland. A few eventually get out on their own, such as actor Chris Pratt, who was homeless and living on a beach in Hawaii for a year. But he was lucky: Statistically, less than 20 percent of homeless people are Chris Pratt. Unlike many homeless in the U.S. who are transient and go from city to city, once in Hawaii, it’s hard to leave. You need a costly plane ride to get out, and whatever money the homeless make goes toward things like food (which, by the way, is 66 percent more expensive in Hawaii). It’s hard to ride the rails to Tulsa from the shores of Waikiki.
Also, it’s hard to trade sand for this.
Fortunately, hobos who want to escape paradise aren’t helpless. The Hawaiian government has been flying hundreds of homeless people back to where they came from — literally taking taxpayer money and flinging the bums away. But only the hobos who volunteer. And since “home” for many of them is a place where freezing to death is a regular concern, they opt to stay in Hawaii.
Mark: “Government workers came by a few times to our small camp with those flights. No one accepted, since going back with virtually nothing for the winter worried everyone. Would we freeze? We were so used to hot weather that suddenly being in 20-degree snow could seriously hurt us.”
#5. Some People Want To Be Homeless In Hawaii
The shelters in Hawaii come with a lot of perks. Some people actually strive to be homeless in Hawaii because of this.
Kenyon: “Right now I’m rent-free, living in a few places around the beach. Some people collect cans or attempt to panhandle, but I do something different — I go to where tourists recently were on the beach and dig through the sand. I usually find coins or the odd piece of jewelry — jewelry I bring into the hotel, since I would feel terrible for taking something prized like that (although I get it if it’s unclaimed). Coins add up to several dollars a day, and I get a nice small payday from pawning any jewelry the hotel gives back to me. It’s enough for food and upkeep on a cellphone and tablet.”
Possibly even more if he gets a metal detector app.
With the average apartment rent in Honolulu over $2,000 a month, homelessness just makes sense for some people. Living outside in a tent is free, and living in a shelter that includes meals can be as low as $3 per day.
Mark: “We pay taxes from buying food or whatever else we need. Some of the higher earners actually report taxes to the IRS. So, living in a public park or beach makes sense — in a way, we’re paying rent. When tourists go by and see us like that, they automatically think we are failures or are going to stab them for meth money, but where else can we go?”
#4. Life Is A Game Of Musical Chairs With A Tent
Say you’re like Mark or Kenyon, and you get by collecting aluminum cans or digging up change — it’s not an easy living, but hey, it’s something. Many of these people actually have part-time or even full-time work — they just can’t afford the insane housing costs. But hobo life in Hawaii isn’t as simple as sticking your bindle in some patch of sand: Different parts of the island are “open” at different times, making life one big game of musical chairs.
Kenyon: “Around the beaches, it’s an art. The sidewalks, hotels, beaches, and streets have different times when no one is allowed there.”
“Well, look at the time; it’s half-past Vagrancy Citation O’Clock.”
Parks close at midnight and beaches close at 2 — and they aren’t opening to the public again until dawn. What do you do?
Mark: “You need to know when to get off. When you see a few of us start to go off, everyone else goes. Cops can jail you and fine you, and you don’t want that. It happened to me about a week after I had to leave my apartment here. I was on Waikiki after 2 and a few cops pulled me in and fined me. I even had to go to court for it. That’s how much they try and keep you away from all the haole.” (That’s the Hawaiian word for “tourist.”)
“It’s a fucking cycle. Beach, sidewalk, park, beach, canal, park, etc. If you stay in a place for too long or are there at the wrong time, you can be sure to see a member of the Honolulu PD come by and drag you away.”
Some of the larger camps are being forcibly removed nowadays, and parks and sidewalks are being heavily restricted.
Kenyon: “That’s why we are always at the beach, and no matter how much tourists complain, it’s where we stay most of the time. It’s still public, and everywhere else has a high chance of harassment. “
#3. There Is Constant Harassment From Tourists As Well As Officials
Nearly a quarter of Hawaii’s yearly income comes from tourism, so it makes sense that they want everything to be picture perfect. Tourists think of white sand beaches, a blue ocean, and palm trees — not clusters of ratty tents and sad, poor people. That’s why the government’s willing to spend money flying them out: They’re expecting dividends in increased tourism.
Nothing takes the fun out of a banana daiquiri quite like the grim specter of poverty.
Mark: “Locals are fine. They know why we are here, and it’s sort of a ‘We don’t come near you, you don’t come near us’ type of deal. Tourists are the ones you need to worry about. I have had people yell at me for stinking up the beach or for scaring their kids. People have this idea of an idyllic Hawaiian beach, and people trying to survive by staying on the beach for a bit ruins that for them.”
While most of the harassment comes from tourists, some of the local state representatives are so against the homeless issue that they actively fight them. Literally.
Kenyon: “Some come out and gawk and take pictures of us. But Brower is the worst.”
“The worst,” meaning: “This is one of the few videos of him we could find without the word ‘sociopathic’ in the title.”
Kenyon refers to Tom Brower, a state rep behind the homeless crackdown who went into a camp and started swinging a sledgehammer at their possessions and shopping carts. This caused a scuffle, and Brower was beaten a bit for tramping about their personal property.
Kenyon: “After that, it made us look like we were out of control. But I talked to one of the guys who was there, and he told me Brower was really trying to get something like that to happen.”
#2. It’s More Difficult To Get Help
All of this cracking down on the homeless looks good to the average citizen, but shuffling the homeless out into less accessible areas has a pretty bad side effect: Homeless and job agencies cannot reach those who need them the most.
Kenyon: “In Kentucky, we were moved, but the church groups and agencies always knew where to find us to help us out. In Hawaii, we have to shuffle to all the odd places where it’s hard to find us. And when it’s easy to find us, like when we’re on the beach, parking is such a nightmare that many don’t come out. We do go out to them, but a lot of those groups are an hour or two away on foot — to get help we need to take a half-a-day-long trek while losing time we could be making money or staying put in places they can’t get to us. It’s a really sucky situation.”
A two-hour trek, while moving everything you own, is probably just
going to burn whatever calories you get from their free lunch anyway.
Mark: “If we aren’t near the tourists, we can’t be spotted. Well, we can by cops, but not by people we might be relying on for dinner that night.”
So Hawaii has a plan for all this, right? It’s not like they’re just going to ship them all to an island like the ending of some golden-era Simpsons plot.
#1. The Government Is Considering Shipping All The Homeless To Another Island
Hawaii’s homeless population has gone up 10 percent in the last year alone. So you can’t blame the government for trying to address the problem. One sensible suggestion is to house more of the cities’ homeless, thus saving money on social services. Subsidized housing for the working homeless is another idea. Both of those sound potentially reasonable. But the plan that’s currently being pushed the hardest involves taking all the homeless of Honolulu and sticking them on their own island.
Though we wonder if playing Lord Of The Flies with poor people might offset
any PR boost from less folks sleeping on the beach.
The place? Sand Island. Its previous claims to fame: In the 19th and 20th centuries, it was where ships dumped off sick passengers as a quarantine. Then in the 1940s it was a Japanese internment camp. Today it is home to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
Kenyon: “They are doing it because of the tourists. No one wants to see us, and everyone wants to pretend we don’t exist.”
Mark: “How would we get food? Or if we needed to go to the hospital? Many of us have jobs but no cars — how would we get to work?”
Right now, the Sand Island exodus has moved past the planning stage. It opened in November, with six homeless volunteers moving. Its current design is a single-walled neighborhood made out of converted shipping containers and laid out like a prison. Toss Kurt Russell in there and you’ve got a killer sequel to Escape From New York.
Just no surfing. Please.
For more insider perspectives, check out 7 Things No One Tells You About Being Homeless and 6 Hidden Dangers Of Being Homeless You Didn’t Know Existed.