In Hawaii, while on your vacation, you may notice we have a homeless problem just as you do where you live. When you think about it, it’s a wonder that our problem isn’t a lot greater, considering how much more comfortable it must be to be homeless in Hawaii than it is in, say, Chicago. You’d think every Hawaii-bound ship would be loaded with homeless stowaways who recognize that.

There’s a definite hierarchy among Hawaii’s homeless. We have the lonely mentally ill, who simply have no one to take care of them, no means of taking care of themselves and no social structure from the government to help. We have the lazy and indolent, who would rather beg and pick trash than clean up and find work. We have the working homeless — people with jobs who have children in school and who manage their responsibilities, but cannot afford places to live other than their cars.

And we have the wily homeless — charming wayfarers who use their wits and always seem to get along just fine without a place to actually call home.

Many of the latter group once were vacationers who just hung around.

Here’s a sample scenario. You can imagine how many variations of this theme there might be.

Your local family is enjoying a Sunday at the beach. Couple of kids, a cooler, beach chairs, some cold drinks and sandwiches and some snacks. It’s a beautiful day. A nice-looking young man lays out a blanket nearby and then spends some time in the surf. When he gets back to his blanket, he towels off and flashes a gleaming smile. As your family begins to pe into the food and drinks, you notice that he is alert to your activity and you offer to share. He gratefully accepts and pulls his blanket over next to yours.

Nice guy. Very polite. Seemingly very bright. He says he’s been on the island for his vacation; now is giving thought to extending his stay and testing the job market. He’s a specialist in dolphin studies based in Miami, Florida and works on projects around the world, most recently in South Africa.

One thing leads to another. He just checked out of his hotel, he says, in anticipation of flying out that evening, but the beautiful day at the beach has pretty much changed his mind.

Hey, you’ve got room! The couch on your enclosed lanai at home is comfortable and he’d even have his own bathroom. He could stay there until he finds something else and while he looks for work. Maybe the Oceanic Institute just down the road on the east coast of Oahu is looking for help.

This guy is going to be with you for at least two weeks, enjoying your breakfasts and dinners and spending his days in the surf as he allegedly looks for work during the day. He’ll pitch in with little jobs around the house and entertain the family with funny stories during meals. Then he’ll move on because, charming as he is, he really is kind of in the way. As much as you hate to do it, you have to ask him to make other plans.

No problem. He’ll simply move on to another part of the island, find another family on another beach, and repeat the process. He may well be around for years.

He certainly isn’t someone easily identified as a “homeless person,” but there he is. We who live in Hawaii bring it on ourselves. We’re welcoming, we enjoy sharing, and we like to show off all the things these islands offer.

We’ll never learn.


  1. As beautiful as it is out there I can definitely see myself parlaying a day into two weeks.

    I don’t blame the guy one bit. Oh and I am not above pitching a tent either.


  2. 2010 Hawaii is in a crisis with many problems – The Hawaiian Islands has approximately 22,000 to 28,000 homeless with 10,000 of them being on the Island of Oahu. Hawaii also has an incarcerated population of 4,000 to 6,000 in prison (due to the high costs and overcrowding, approximately 2,000 of Hawaii’s incarcerated men have been moved to Arizona), 8,000 to 10,000 are on probation & there are approximately 4,000 kids whose parents are in prison. Studies show that 90% of these kids will end up in prison like their parents in Hawaii or those sent to Arizona. There are 1,400 kids waiting to be adopted (40% of these kids are Hawaiian) in Hawaii.

    Hawaii has 100 active gangs that have an overall total of 4,000 to 6,000 gang members (gang markings are in almost every community in Hawaii with graffiti & shoes hanging from telephone wires). Every month, one woman dies due to “Domestic Violence” & likewise, one person is committing suicide. Hawaii is rated 5th in the US for the drug use of Methamphetamine, also simply known as Meth. Hawaii was once #1 for Meth use.

    These statistics go on and on from divorce (within 5 to 8 years 50% of married couples divorce in Hawaii), bankruptcy, foreclosure, crime, freeway racing, legal issues, immigrant issues, hepatitis B & C, HIV/AIDS, housing/shelter, mental health, medical care, sex abuse, alcohol, financial, & etc. In being a State for 51 years, these are some of the problems, but what are the solutions? What does Hawaii’s future look like? Hawaii’s buildings & lands are starting to look dirty with vandalism, rubbish, uncut grass, and piles of furniture in communities just waiting for the City & County of Honolulu to dispose. There are many other issues that are turning Hawaii from one of the most exotic places to visit in the world to another state that cost too much to visit let alone live in.

    There are 150 Dream Centers around the world to help people that are in need like the homeless, gang members, the incarcerated & etc. There is a 204 acre project that is dedicated to helping Hawaii’s people in need and will make a paradigm shift like never before to address Hawaii’s ever growing social ills.

  3. It's really true that Hawaii's family courts (divorce and child custody) – with the assistance of a few renegade judges (like Keith Tanaka on Maui) who are legislating from the bench, disregarding statutory law, etc – are creating a "hidden homeless" that is increasingly dependent on state aid, whether they want to be or not. 
    Add to that, a family court system nationwide, where perpetrators of domestic violence are given custody of the children 58% of the time, and we are creating a future generation who will emulate their abusive parent; taxing the courts, police, social services, etc.  Perhaps that's the goal of the judiciary…job security.

  4. Aloha Bruce,
    being back in Hawaii to study the growing homeless
    problem in America has been both rewarding & depressing.Tomorrow we will have the 3rd annual run/walk to benefit IHS the main support system for
    Hawaii’s homeless.Can you give us an update on what you see as the next solution to controlling this
    growing problem in Hawaii Mahalo,RQ

  5. I am amazed at the lack of integrity residents on Kauai have as a result of the homeless problem. How many of those homeless are divorced mothers with children who can’t receive any justice within the Kauai Family Court. As a mother and grandmother with a daughter on island who has not been able to keep a roof over her head or food for her children, I am outraged at the lack of responsibility the Kauai legal system has toward those women who can’t find employment that will sufficiently support them. And furthermore the fathers of their children are given more consideration in court than the mothers. They can go into court and lie, provide less than accurate documents to support their position and it doesn’t matter that the mother is living on the beach with an infant and can’t fight back. There is no legal assistance for them. The system is unfair and there doesn’t appear to be any integrity within the legal aid society. Kauai is a third world country from my perspective. A woman who graduated Magna cum laude can’t support herself on Kauai and the father of her children who can afford child support doesn’t have to pay. Sounds like the men on Kauai receive preferred status from the courts and the woman are subjected to emotional and financial abuse. No wonder there is a drug and abuse issues on Kauai. You have created it with your society of abuse in the family court system.

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