Question: What’s it called when you do the same thing over and over, each time expecting a different result?
Answer: Hawaii’s approach to homelessness!
It’s tough to think otherwise after reading today’s Maui News story on the impending sweep at Baldwin Beach Park, which is scheduled to take place at 10am on Tuesday, May 23. After all, it wasn’t even six months ago that the state Department of Transportation cleared the homeless out of Kahului Harbor–an action that probably just pushed the people to Baldwin in the first place.
This happens every time. Homeless people gather in a certain location, nearby residents complain about fights and/or increased crime, authorities move in and push everyone out, then the homeless find a new place to camp. It’s inhumane and ineffective–and we’ve known this for years.
“Three main effects of city sweeps and sit-lie policies on the houseless emerged from the data: (1) property and economic loss, (2) physical and psychological harm, and (3) possible constitutional violations,” states the 2015 report The Effects of City Sweeps and Sit-Lie Policies on Honolulu’s Houseless, written by University of Hawaii researchers Tai Dunson-Strane and Sarah Soakai. “The problem of houselessness will not be solved through punitive policies that increase harm to this population. Adequate solutions are possible when all levels of governance including citizens and communities recognize homelessness as a significant problem in Hawai`i and prioritize resources to more adequately address it.”
Seriously, please read this study. It’s not long–just 51 pages (nearly half of which are references and appendices). Though it deals specifically with Honolulu, the lessons the researchers learn are clearly applicable throughout the state–especially where homeless sweeps are concerned. This portion in particular deals with sweeps’ psychological toll on those caught up in them.
The data show that a high proportion of those surveyed suffered significant physical stress and psychological harm resulting from sweeps, including anxiety, fear, anger, and sadness. Sweeps further compounded already vulnerable states of mental and physical health due to many people’s traumatic experiences from becoming houseless. Not only did the sweeps themselves have emotional and psychological impacts, but also prevalent was the fear of impending sweeps. Over two-thirds (67 percent) of those surveyed stated that they were worried about future sweeps taking place.
Thankfully, Maui doesn’t yet have to contend with a sit-lie ban, but given that Mayor Alan Arakawa proposed one late last year, it’s probably only a matter of time before the County Council gives in (ironically, Maui County Prosecutor J.D. Kim apparently pronounced Arakawa’s proposed sit-lie ban as unconstitutional, according to this Nov. 1, 2016 Maui News article).
In the mean time, Maui County’s homeless population isn’t going anywhere. The most recent homeless numbers show Maui County has about 1,145 homeless people (pretty much the same number as 2015), of which just 484 are sheltered, according to this June 30, 2016 KHON 2 story.
UPDATE, MAY 10: Today the State of Hawaii released its annual Point In Time count of homeless people across the state. It shows a 22 percent drop in the number of homeless people in Maui County–896 total. Of those, 395 are currently sheltered while 501 are unsheltered. Click here to read the report.
2003 Photo of Baldwin Beach Park: Forest & Kim Starr/Wikimedia Commons