“No Room in Paradise,” the special documentary film that aired last night, did a fine and unflinching job of explaining the crushing homelessness crisis that this community faces and some of its main causes. It was much more candid than a recent newspaper article had led me to believe, and only pulled punches or otherwise fell short in a few specific areas, but that’s to be expected when time is limited.
Mostly it was raw, unvarnished truth, which is what this island needs to see and hear. It covered a lot of ground.
Other viewers may see things differently, but this was my interpretation in a nutshell:
Oahu has a serious lack of affordable housing and it’s only going to get worse unless public officials get serious about addressing the problems.
The fact that so many young children are caught in the middle of this mess and living in danger and squalor through no fault of their own is outrageous and absolutely heart-breaking. There needs to be an immediate, serious, and sustained commitment to protecting these kids and saving them from lives of misery and repetition of the cycle of poverty, abuse, and addiction that many of their parents have suffered. No excuses. It has to be done.
Public officials have done a terrible job of addressing the homelessness crisis. Some efforts are being made, mostly by Mayor Caldwell and a few others, but it’s too little and too late. The situation never should have been allowed to get this bad.
Drug abuse is a huge contributing factor to the homelessness crisis, and there is no point in being squeamish about that for fear of being accused of stereotyping or blaming victims of circumstance. The meth plague is as plain as day, and being honest about that doesn’t necessarily constitute a value judgment. We need more drug abuse treatment services, and we’re not going to get them if people keep pretending that all homeless people are just regular hard-working folks who fell on hard times and simply need cheap housing.
There is no one-size-fits-all remedy for homelessness. People come from different backgrounds and have different needs. To be sure, not all are druggies. There are also the mentally ill (sometimes as a result of drug abuse, but often not), victims/survivors of domestic violence, immigrants from Micronesia and the mainland, seniors, disabled people, veterans and recently released prisoners with their own sets of issues, people who want to live a minimalist outdoor lifestyle, and yes, regular hard-working people who fell on hard times and just need affordable housing and some help getting back on track.
The city’s much-criticized enforcement efforts are necessary to persuade some homeless people to get the help they need. Making it easy to live on the streets and indulge in drug abuse and child endangerment doesn’t help anyone and just wrecks the quality of life for so many others.
Responding to frequent ambulance calls from disabled or mentally ill people instead of providing them with safe and decent housing is short-sighted and expensive. It makes a lot more sense to spend the money up front and get people off the street. Cutbacks to services for the mentally ill have been especially cruel and short-sighted. We are all paying the price now.
Even when housing is provided, some people will choose to be druggies who neglect their kids and blow it. You can only hold a person’s hand so much. Addicts have to want to change. If they won’t change for the sake of their children, their children need to be placed in a safer environment. It’s sad but true.
Many veterans need serious help but federal assistance is often available and should be aggressively pursued.
Some homeless people from the mainland and Micronesia are not going to make it here and would be better off back where they came from or someplace more suitable. If they want to return, that should be encouraged and facilitated. Attracting them to a place where they have no reasonable chance of getting off the street or reaching anything better than marginal existence is not helping them.
Released prisoners need support services to help them stay on the straight and narrow. Making it easy for them to mess up and go back to jail is expensive and doesn’t help anyone.
There needs to be a serious investment in building more affordable housing. Temporary shelters and rent vouchers for private sector housing are not going to solve the problem. In fact, they mostly create the illusion of addressing the problem. Increasing competition for limited housing doesn’t make things better. There needs to be more housing to meet demand. Private developers are not going to do it all on their own.
This island needs real leadership. Now!
Anyway, that’s a quick breakdown of how I interpreted the film. Watch it and think for yourself.
The 90-minute film will air again on October 30 at 7 p.m. on KHNL; on November 5 at 8:30 p.m. on KGMB; and on November 13 at 8 p.m. on KHNL.