We're on the island of Oahu for fieldwork this summer. So of course on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter I post the beautiful and interesting paradisiacal photos everyone expects from Hawaii, but the homelessness. I don't take photos of homeless people on purpose, but the homelessness is epidemic and startling. Not just outside the tourist zone but everywhere. Drunks, junkies, or just ill passed out in the sun right on sidewalks, at the bottom of hiking trail, in every ravine. Homeless middle aged white women looking like NYC crusty punks--sitting on sidewalks with reader glasses and flowing scarves surrounded by good looking medium-big-sized dogs leashed and with dog beds and the requisite grocery cart filled with random stuff. Don't come to Hawaii to be a free spirit; their economy cannot support you.
But, weirdly, there are no stray dogs (or visible drugs sales or prostitution, but more on that later) like in the Samoan Islands and other similar locales. Dogs are leashed here. No dog poop either. Even the homeless have dogs on leashes! Over by Dole Cannery, a row of tarped tents had dogs hanging out politely. No barking or guarding--just chilling. Near the airport were tent set-ups that looked part homeless, part extended stay backpacker. The people looked clean--without the ruddiness of living outside. We saw solar pads running from under a low highway and music was pouring out. We saw well-put-together young ladies arrive on longboards, crawl in and sit. Others were vaping something inside. Another was fixing a long board. Nearby, a tent city was next to an overpass and on rafts like they were moving up and down the waterways?
According to local news, a spate of evictions delayed by COVID19 is expected to increase homelessness. The website of Lt. Governor Josh Green says Hawaii homelessness is the highest per capita in the country, with 15,000 on streets; 1500-2000 are "chronic," meaning they are homeless 6 mos+ or have accompanying mental/physical issue or drug problem. Disproportionate contingent are Native Hawaiian.
I don't take photos of homeless people on purpose, but I took a photo of the scene from my napping spot by a tree and noted the person in the foreground after the fact. Apologies, but homelessness is so ubiquitous, it is on the beaches with tourists with no one batting an eye. Cops told me to stop riding a bike on the sidewalk, but they do nothing to help. There are so many, I understand why but...
Christopher D. Lynn
I am a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alabama with expertise in biocultural medical anthropology.