Hawaii voters overwhelmingly believe that homelessness is a major problem in the islands — 90 percent of them, to be exact.
Only a scant 8 percent say it’s a minor issue.
But when it comes to their confidence that state and local leaders are doing what is needed to tackle the crisis, Gov. David Ige and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell get low marks.
Gov. David Ige and Mayor Kirk Caldwell at a press conference on homelessness at the Capitol last July.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Barely one-fourth of voters surveyed by Civil Beat say the situation has improved under Ige’s leadership, while nearly half say there has been no effect at all.
Caldwell’s numbers are better than Ige’s, but not by much. Only 30 percent say the homeless situation has improved under his leadership.
“What people are really saying is that some are appalled by homelessness because it’s a terrible way for their fellow human beings to live,” said Matt Fitch, executive director of Merriman River Group, which conducted The Civil Beat Poll. “And for other people it’s for a very different reason — that homelessness is a problem because it’s unpleasant for them to experience and view.”
Meanwhile, voters are embracing increased law enforcement efforts such as the sit-lie bans to confront homelessness.
Two-thirds of voters statewide say the laws are necessary to keep Hawaii “safe and livable” and to help businesses, including the tourism industry. The figure is even higher on Oahu, which has experienced the brunt of homelessness.
And almost half say government officials need to spend more time and money to help the homeless — something that may influence legislators and the governor, who singled out affordable housing and homelessness as top priorities in the 2016 legislative session.
The poll, which sampled 70 percent landlines and 30 percent cellphones, has a margin of error of 4 percent. It included 614 registered Oahu voters, which has a 4 percent margin of error.
The new data comes as the prohibition on sitting and lying on sidewalks and pedestrian malls that applies to 15 areas on Oahu is being considered by the Legislature for expansion to state lands.
It also follows a series of steps taken at both the county and state level.
In December, Ige released his supplemental budget proposal, asking the Legislature to steer more than $10 million in additional funds toward tackling homelessness in the next fiscal year. The bulk of the funds would be used for expanding Housing First and the rapid rehousing program — existing initiatives aimed at placing people quickly into permanent housing.
The state also embarked on a $400,000 conversion of a Kakaako maintenance shed to operate it as a temporary shelter that would house 60 individuals and 15 families at a time. The shelter is designed to serve as an “entry point” for people to transition to longer-term housing facilities within 90 days.
In November, the city opened a new transitional housing facility on Sand Island — dubbed Hale Mauliola — after more than a year of planning and construction. The facility makes use of modified shipping containers to house up to 90 homeless singles and couples.
Caldwell has also helped convene a “landlord summit” in an attempt to convince landlords to accept more Section 8 tenants to help alleviate homelessness.
Homelessness Can Be Solved
If there is any good news for government officials in this latest survey, it’s that two-thirds of voters believe that homelessness in Hawaii can be solved through effective leadership.
Fitch said there was little variation in demographics on most survey questions.
One that stands out is that voters who identify as Democrats or lean liberal were less likely to favor law enforcement actions such as sit-lie bans, as compared with voters who say they are Republicans or lean conservative.
On that same question, the more voters made in income, they more likely they were to support the bans.
Coming Friday: How are city officials doing overseeing the $6.6 billion Honolulu rail project?