It’s the meth, stupid!

Sleeping near Queens.jpg

Housing is ridiculously expensive on Oahu and throughout the state.  Everyone knows that’s a huge part of the homelessness crisis.  But more shelters and more housing will not alone solve this crisis.  Neither will apathy, ignorance, or beating around the bush.

Hawaii has an enormous methamphetamine abuse problem that is a root cause of homelessness for many, many people.  Let me say that again:  HAWAII HAS AN ENORMOUS METHAMPHETAMINE ABUSE PROBLEM.

In fact, the problem is so serious, and has been here for so long, that it’s no longer big news and people no longer talk about solving it.  We’ve become desensitized.  That’s the gist of some recent reporting by Hawaii Public Radio and the Civil Beat news site.  That, and the fact that there are not enough treatment opportunities available for those who desperately need help, are willing to accept it, and have even been directed to treatment by the courts.

Here’s a shocking statistic from that series:  About 45 patients come through the emergency room at The Queen’s Medical Center every day with a meth-related ailment.  And many of them are soon discharged right back to the streets, babbling and ranting at imaginary monsters, looking for something to steal or someone to rob, or just crashing out in the nearest doorway or park,  some still wearing the blue paper pajamas they were issued because their clothing was a rancid mess that had to be incinerated.

Meth, also known as ice, has also been a major factor in some of Honolulu’s most heinous crimes, including the infamous murder of an infant who was hurled off a bridge into freeway traffic by a crazed meth-head in 2008.  Other adults who should have protected that poor child were also strung out on meth.  The killer was sentenced to 200 years in prison, and his father wound up homeless and was later beat to death in Chinatown by another homeless man.  It almost seems like Honolulu didn’t want to hear about meth anymore after that horrible saga.

Are all homeless people in Honolulu dangerously psychotic meth addicts?  Of course not.  But plenty of them are, and we need to start talking about that and keep talking about it.  Even the recent reporting by Hawaii Public Radio and Civil Beat barely touched on the connection between meth and homelessness, although it did include a woman’s frank account of being a homeless meth addict living in Kapiolani Park.  That’s too bad, because the connection is huge, dangerous, expensive, destructive, in everyone’s face — and not getting better.

It was recently reported that a local needle exchange program passed out nearly one million needles last year alone, about half the recipients used the needles to inject meth, and most of the clients are homeless.  Previously, most meth users smoked the drug.  Now, it’s reaching a whole new level.

This can’t become the new normal.  It just can’t.  Not in Honolulu.

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