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Homelessness is a complex issue affecting many communities across the United States, including the paradise destination of Hawaii. If you’re looking for a quick answer, high housing costs coupled with low wages and lack of affordable housing options have led to a rise in homelessness across the Hawaiian islands over the past decade.

In this comprehensive article, we’ll dive into the key factors contributing to Hawaii’s homelessness crisis and provide an in-depth analysis of potential solutions. With thoughtful policy changes and community-driven programs, progress can be made to reduce homelessness and its impacts in Hawaii.

The Rising Cost of Housing in Hawaii

Hawaii, with its stunning beaches and tropical climate, is a dream destination for many. However, the state is also grappling with a significant issue – a growing number of homeless individuals. One of the major factors contributing to this problem is the rising cost of housing in Hawaii.

High Demand, Limited Supply

Hawaii’s unique geography and limited land availability make it challenging to meet the demand for housing. The high demand for housing, coupled with a limited supply of land, has resulted in skyrocketing prices. As a result, many low-income individuals and families are unable to afford adequate housing, pushing them towards homelessness.

The scarcity of land also leads to increased competition among buyers, driving up prices even further. This phenomenon is especially evident in popular tourist destinations like Honolulu and Maui, where the demand for vacation homes and rentals is exceptionally high.

Influx of Non-Residents Driving Up Prices

Another contributing factor to the soaring housing costs in Hawaii is the influx of non-resident buyers. Many wealthy individuals from around the world see Hawaii as an attractive investment opportunity or a vacation home destination. This increased demand from non-residents drives up prices, making it even more challenging for local residents to find affordable housing.

According to a report by the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism, non-resident buyers accounted for a significant portion of real estate sales in recent years. In some cases, these buyers purchase properties solely as investments, leaving them vacant for most of the year. This further exacerbates the housing shortage and drives up prices for local residents.

Lack of Affordable Housing Development

The lack of affordable housing development is another crucial factor contributing to the homelessness crisis in Hawaii. While some efforts have been made to address this issue, they have not kept pace with the growing demand.

Developing affordable housing in Hawaii presents unique challenges due to the high cost of labor, materials, and land. Additionally, strict zoning regulations, environmental concerns, and community resistance further hinder the development of affordable housing projects.

Without sufficient affordable housing options, many low-income individuals and families are forced to live in substandard conditions or resort to homelessness as they struggle to find affordable alternatives.

Stagnant Wages and Lack of Economic Opportunity

The high number of homeless individuals in Hawaii can be attributed, in part, to stagnant wages and a lack of economic opportunity. Despite being a popular tourist destination, many jobs in Hawaii’s tourism industry are low-paying. This makes it difficult for individuals to earn enough income to afford housing, particularly in a state with a high cost of living.

Low-Paying Tourism Jobs

One of the main factors contributing to the prevalence of homelessness in Hawaii is the abundance of low-paying tourism jobs. While the tourism industry is a major source of revenue for the state, the majority of jobs in this sector are low-wage positions such as hotel staff, restaurant servers, and retail workers. These jobs often offer minimal benefits and limited opportunities for career advancement, making it challenging for individuals to escape the cycle of poverty.

Downward Mobility Among Locals

Another issue exacerbating the homelessness crisis in Hawaii is the phenomenon of downward mobility among locals. Many individuals who were born and raised in Hawaii find themselves struggling to make ends meet due to the limited economic opportunities available. They may have been able to find stable employment in the past, but as the cost of living continues to rise, their wages have not kept pace. This downward mobility can push individuals and families into homelessness, as they are unable to afford housing despite their best efforts.

Barriers to Employment for Homeless

For those who are already experiencing homelessness, there are significant barriers to finding stable employment. Lack of a permanent address, limited access to transportation, and a lack of resources can make it challenging for homeless individuals to secure and maintain employment. Additionally, many jobs require a certain level of education or specific skills, which may be difficult for homeless individuals to acquire without access to resources and support.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Hawaii has one of the highest rates of homelessness per capita in the United States. The state has been grappling with this issue for many years, and while efforts have been made to address the root causes, such as increasing affordable housing options and providing support services for homeless individuals, the problem persists.

To learn more about the homelessness crisis in Hawaii and the efforts being made to combat it, you can visit the official website of the Department of Human Services, Homeless Programs Office at

Insufficient Government Assistance and Support

One of the major reasons for the high rate of homelessness in Hawaii is the insufficient government assistance and support provided to those in need. Cuts to social safety net programs have left many individuals and families without the necessary resources to secure and maintain stable housing. Programs that once provided financial aid and housing assistance have been scaled back, making it more difficult for people to find the help they need.

Cuts to Social Safety Net Programs

One of the contributing factors to the increase in homelessness is the cuts to social safety net programs. These programs, which include Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Medicaid, are designed to provide financial aid and support to low-income individuals and families. However, reductions in funding and stricter eligibility requirements have made it harder for people to access these crucial resources.

According to a study conducted by the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, the state’s TANF program, also known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, provides assistance to only a fraction of those who are eligible. The study found that in 2019, only about 12% of eligible families in Hawaii received TANF benefits. This lack of support leaves many without the means to secure stable housing and pushes them into homelessness.

Failures of Public Housing System

The failures of the public housing system in Hawaii have also contributed to the homelessness crisis. The demand for affordable housing far exceeds the supply, resulting in long waiting lists and limited options for those in need. The lack of investment in public housing infrastructure and maintenance has led to deteriorating conditions in many units, making them uninhabitable.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the shortage of affordable rental units in Hawaii is among the most severe in the nation. The state has an extremely low vacancy rate, making it challenging for individuals and families to find suitable and affordable housing. This scarcity of affordable options forces many people into homelessness, as they simply cannot find or afford a place to live.

Gaps in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services

Another significant factor contributing to homelessness in Hawaii is the gaps in mental health and substance abuse services. Many individuals experiencing homelessness also struggle with mental health issues or substance abuse disorders. However, there is a lack of accessible and affordable treatment options, exacerbating their difficulties and preventing them from securing stable housing.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates that approximately 45% of individuals experiencing homelessness in the United States have a mental health condition. In Hawaii, the shortage of mental health resources and the limited availability of substance abuse treatment programs make it challenging for these individuals to receive the support they need to overcome their challenges and regain stability in their lives.

Addressing the homelessness crisis in Hawaii requires a comprehensive approach that includes increased government assistance, improved public housing infrastructure, and expanded mental health and substance abuse services. By investing in these areas, we can begin to address the root causes of homelessness and provide individuals and families with the support they need to rebuild their lives.

Possible Solutions and Paths Forward

The issue of homelessness in Hawaii is complex and multifaceted, requiring a comprehensive approach to address the root causes and provide long-term solutions. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, there are several strategies that have shown promise in tackling this issue. Here are some possible solutions and paths forward:

More Affordable Housing Development

One of the key reasons for the high homelessness rate in Hawaii is the lack of affordable housing options. The high cost of living, limited availability of affordable rentals, and increasing housing prices have contributed to the homelessness crisis. To address this, there is a need for increased investment in the development of affordable housing units. This can be done through partnerships between the government, private sector, and non-profit organizations. By increasing the supply of affordable housing, more individuals and families will have access to stable and secure housing, reducing their risk of homelessness.

Rental Assistance and Eviction Protections

Another important aspect of addressing homelessness in Hawaii is providing rental assistance and eviction protections to those at risk of losing their homes. Many individuals and families facing homelessness are unable to afford the high rental costs, leading to evictions and subsequent homelessness. By offering rental assistance programs and strengthening eviction protections, individuals and families can receive the support they need to remain in their homes. This can include financial assistance, mediation services, and legal aid to prevent evictions and promote housing stability.

Supportive Services for High-Need Groups

Some individuals experiencing homelessness in Hawaii may require additional support due to mental health issues, substance abuse, or other factors. Providing supportive services tailored to the needs of these high-need groups can greatly assist in their transition out of homelessness. This can include access to mental health services, substance abuse treatment, job training, and case management. By addressing the underlying issues contributing to homelessness, individuals can regain stability and reintegrate into society.

Comprehensive Policy Reform

To effectively address the homelessness crisis in Hawaii, comprehensive policy reform is necessary. This involves the collaboration of government agencies, community organizations, and advocacy groups to develop and implement evidence-based policies that prioritize homelessness prevention, housing stability, and supportive services. By adopting a holistic approach, policymakers can create a more resilient and sustainable system that prevents homelessness and provides the necessary resources for individuals and families to thrive.

It is important to note that these solutions are not standalone measures, but rather should be implemented in conjunction with one another to maximize their impact. Homelessness is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted approach, and by working together, we can make significant progress in reducing homelessness and improving the lives of those affected.


In conclusion, Hawaii’s homelessness crisis is a nuanced issue stemming from economic and policy failures around housing, wages, and social services. Tackling rising inequality and unaffordability with thoughtful reforms and community collaboration provides a path towards reducing homelessness and its impacts across the Hawaiian islands. By implementing data-driven solutions focused on preventing homelessness and humanely supporting those experiencing it, Hawaii can work to restore the promise of stability and opportunity for all of its residents.

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