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The Other Side of Paradise

The Plight of Oahu's Leeward Coast Homeless

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The Other Side of Paradise

Leeward Coast Homeless

Photo by John Fischer

Just a few miles and several minutes north of the beautiful Ko Olina Resort on Oahu's Leeward Coast you will find the other side of paradise. There, on sixteen miles of beaches and beach parks stretching beneath the Waianae Mountains, you'll find the tents, wooden containers, vans and simple overhangs that are the residences of many of Oahu's homeless population which, by some estimates, numbers over 4,000.

At first glance it's easy to disparage these people as bums, deadbeats, drug addicts and the like, but this is a disservice to a large number of these folks. While many of these homeless are indeed jobless and current or former addicts, a closer look shows that many are also respectable people and often entire families whose only "crime" is that they cannot afford a place to live.

Housing Costs on Oahu

The median cost of a single family home on Oahu, as of the third quarter 2006, is $635,000. (Honolulu Board of REALTORS®, October 18, 2006) The median cost of a condominium is $315,000. Even on Oahu's less well-to-do Leeward Coast, the median cost of a single family home is $365,000. and a condominium $ 179,000. None of this is to infer that many such residences are even available for sale.

Lives of the Leeward Coast Homeless

Because of laws prohibiting the establishment of permanent residences on beaches and in beach parks, many of these shelters are packed up each morning and loaded into the owners station wagon, van and, yes, even SUV. The local school buses stop at the beach parks to pick up homeless children for school. Many of the homeless adults drive to their day jobs. Many of these people are far from indigent.

This homeless existence is not unique to Oahu. You'll find other such camps on most of the major Hawaiian Islands. It's just that on Oahu, the homeless have found some sense of unity in numbers - numbers that defy law enforcement and befuddle and embarrass state and county politicians.

A Largely Hidden Shame

It's much too easy for government officials and even many local residents to ignore this situation. After all, for the most part this embarrassment is invisible to most of Hawaii's millions of visitors who rarely visit this side of the island. Many locals recognize the situation, but can only be grateful that they themselves have a place to live. Many of them, however, are just a few dollars and a job from joining the homeless. I know one public relations professional who pays $1600 a month for a 900 square-foot apartment. Other locals have harkened back to the old ways, living in homes together with their parents, grandparents and siblings.

Election Year Attention

In an election year, politicians facing reelection make some effort to address the situation. Hawaii's Republican Governor Linda Lingle, facing her own reelection campaign, appointed a state official to oversee the emergency construction of shelters for Leeward Coast homeless and, in an emergency proclamation, described the situation as a "major disaster and catastrophe."

Just recently a new homeless shelter was opened at Kalaeloa at the former Barber's Point Naval Station. The state is spending nearly $2 million to renovate a three-story building into 66 living units. Crews are still working on the first floor, which is configured for the handicapped. The state expects the building will house 200 people when complete.

The building has been named Onelauena which, according to Kaulana Park, the state's homeless coordinator for the Leeward coast, means "where all necessities of life are found."

The state expects to complete another emergency shelter at the Waianae Civic Center to house up to 300 people by the end of the year.

Measures like these, however, are mere stopgap solutions, not real answers to the problem. The Kalaeloa Shelter is designated as a transitional shelter where residents can stay for free for up to six months while they attend required classes in job and life skills. Shelters like this, however admirable, still fail to address the homeless who actually have jobs, but need permanent affordable housing.

Next Page > The Root of the Problem

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