About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister.

Danny holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and minor in Public Administration from UT San Antonio, 2001; a Master of Arts in  Political Science (concentration International Organizations) and minor in Humanities from Texas State University, 2002.

He received his Doctor of Theology from Andersonville Theological Seminary in 2013 and Doctor of Ministry in 2014.

Danny received his Ordination from United Fellowship of Christ Ministries International, (Non-Denominational Christian), in 2002.


Homeless people should be propped up so they can eventually return to society.

A friend of mine, who reads my columns about Oahu and parks every day in the metered parking by the Hawaii State Library sent me a desperate iMessage on Monday after work: “The sidewalk on the way to my car is obstructed by a gigantic bowel movement someone left behind, and I can’t get near it without getting sick from the smell or being accosted by a swarm of flies.”

I would have asked her to photograph it as one more exhibit to shame our local government into taking action and cleaning up Honolulu, but as we all know, there is no shortage of such heinous sights around Oahu, which seem to be increasing in severity around the Hawaii Capital Historic District

This is a problem, because the one place that needs to be kept absolutely aesthetic, hygienic and free from unpleasant sights at all times is the Capital District because, you know, that’s supposed to be where first impressions count and we showcase the best of our government.

Sure, I could get into writing pedantically about how tourists, multinational business leaders, foreign diplomats, heads of state, even major military personalities regularly come to the Capital District, and what they see here colors the way they describe us to the people they go home to.

I could also tell you about how Singapore figured out in the 1960s that aesthetics, infrastructure and visitor experience were all linked to bringing big investors in, and how they leveraged those things to become a major hub, not a bit player or afterthought, in the Indo-Pacific region.

But you should all know this from common sense, and you should all be absolutely ashamed to see the center of our local government turning into a desolate, decaying ghetto of government buildings and human waste.

This is why I’m surprised about recent talk about bringing even more homeless to the downtown area, through the development of what has been termed “health kauhales” – small houses where homeless people can be sheltered, attended to by social workers, and protected by security – in the Capital District. 

Gov. Josh Green told HPR that 10 tiny homes for homeless people will be built next door to the Department of Health on Punchbowl Street. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020)

Okay guys. If you want to cement in the minds of visitors the negative beliefs about Hawaii, then yes, let’s surround government buildings with tiny shacks that are basically, in my opinion, no more than glorified versions of the tool sheds sold at Home Depot or Lowes.

“But Danny, these are traditional, cultural, small homes that are compassionate solutions for homeless.” Stop. Don’t give me that focus group-tested public relations nonsense that’s supposed to dangle appropriated Hawaiian phrases in front of a target population like a magic charm to earn sympathy.

There are two glaring problems with this idea.

First, it sets a precedent that normalizes homeless people aggregating in the Capital District. If you put homeless camps in downtown, you’ll simply have more homeless there. That makes things more dangerous and unsanitary for everyone. Do you really think this will end here?

Second, it isn’t compassionate at all. It just makes people think we’re doing something when in fact we’re not actually improving the quality of life for Honolulu residents or the sanitation of our public spaces. Putting someone in a shack and labeling it with a Hawaiian name isn’t helping them, it isn’t culturally sensitive, it’s an insult to people down on their luck and a token, political gimmick.

Some Alternatives

The first thing that we should be doing is purchasing a rural, remote portion of Oahu with vast, open spaces suitable for farming where we can build a proper homeless rehabilitation site. This area should be constructed with large barracks, health care facilities, a commissary, recreational areas, vocational training buildings and community farming areas so that homeless people can safely and productively be stabilized. State, county, and federal funds should be programmed into making a first-rate center that can put homeless people in a nice refuge under the care of Department of Human Services personnel.

The second thing we need to do is look at the homeless problem strategically as a long-term economic problem to be remedied. We need to lower the cost of living in Hawaii, stop causing artificial scarcity in the housing supply, and turn Oahu from a palace economy where everything requires legislation, a license or a permit, to an opportunity economy where ideas can profit.

There has been an increase in the presence of homeless people in the Iolani Palace area. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Homeless people need to be propped up so they can eventually return to society as self-sufficient individuals who are productive members of the community.

Putting someone in a tiny shack until they die of Type 2 diabetes is not compassion.

Putting someone permanently back in control of their health, their finances, and yes, their destiny is true compassion.

I feel ashamed that I even have to write about this. You don’t turn your Capital District into a hub for homeless. When we go to downtown Honolulu, we should see a showcase of the best architecture, the best landscaping, the best sanitation, and yes, the best government in Hawaii. 

When high profile visitors from Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo or Sydney come to Honolulu, they should say, “Wow, this is a clean city with elegant architecture, ecological harmony, and friendly streets with people who look happy.” They shouldn’t be saying to each other, “Quick honey, let’s get this meeting with the governor over with and get back to Ko Olina, this place gives me the creeps.”

People are influenced by their environment. If downtown Honolulu looks like a jungle, people will start living like animals in a jungle. That’s not hyperbole, look up the infamous Stanford University Prison Experiment by Philip Zimbardo where harsh conditions turned people into animals in a matter of days.

Can we please stop with the gimmicks? Can we at least act like we care about how Honolulu looks? Can we have the moral conviction and the desire to be better again in our government and try to build a city that speaks the best, not the worst, about our way of life to the world and future generations?

Democracy is supposed to be about building a shining city upon a hill that inspires people to live better and be better. Gov. Green, please don’t turn our Honolulu into a homeless camp.


Read this next:

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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister.

Danny holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and minor in Public Administration from UT San Antonio, 2001; a Master of Arts in  Political Science (concentration International Organizations) and minor in Humanities from Texas State University, 2002.

He received his Doctor of Theology from Andersonville Theological Seminary in 2013 and Doctor of Ministry in 2014.

Danny received his Ordination from United Fellowship of Christ Ministries International, (Non-Denominational Christian), in 2002.


Latest Comments (0)

I get it and agree the capitol district should be a showcase of government competence, beauty and heritage, but the reality is that is not Honolulu, or Hawaii in general. Our lackluster government has continued to fail in infrastructure maintenance and repair for decades. We see it now with the Convention Center and for years with the Natatorium. That is the true run down, third world banana republic we live in, and it continues to get worse, particularly with the homeless situation. Why not be transparent and show the world how bad things are here, despite the highest taxes in the nation. Put it on display right next to the hallowed halls of the state capitol and city hall. Unlike when Obama brought the Pan-Pacific conference here and the city literally paved roads and spruced up medians only along the path that dignitaries would pass, it was a total sham. Since it appears that Green wants to erect a village right next to Queen's and the DOH. What better showcase for all taxpayers to see how bad it has gotten on their daily commute to work, so that their earnings can pay the taxes to keep this show going.

wailani1961 · 9 months ago

If the vacant downtown Walmart cannot be used for housing, maybe some workers from City Hall could set up offices there.Not that this will likely happen with unions and the need to keep the King Street area visually free from the homeless but maybe it’s a start for brainstorming ideas.But if City Hall were emptied, maybe the upper floors could have partitioned spaces for families, single men and women. Although there are already public bathrooms, portable toilet/shower sites could also be added nearby. The open ground floor could serve those who need to use public bathrooms or to check in with housing, care or social workers there.Security could be employed at the various entrances. Plus the grassy grounds could also hold multiple individual small houses for families, like Green’s idea near DOH. They should feel safe there. This location is also close to the library, main police station and even Queen’s Hospital and is on the bus line. The municipal building and the State buildings could also be utilized.

Just_Tess · 9 months ago

Other developed countries have made the model and are successful. Why are we trying to reinvent the wheel? Just copy with other smarter countries are doing.

Local_kotonk · 9 months ago

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