For years some visitors without adequate resources either arrived of their own volition or were sent by others to Hawaii to live. Some came with just a few dollars in their pocket and went right to a homeless shelter. Oahu has the most significant per capita homeless population, with 49 homeless individuals per 10,000 residents (2022 statistics).
To ensure resources go to people who call Hawaii home, a short-term program was launched three years that returned transients to the mainland. That may start happening again soon. A new partnership using public and private funds is being envisioned that would offer free one-way tickets home.
Hawaii return-to-home pilot program.
New Hawaii House/Senate legislation is winding its way through committees – HB1366 HD1 SD2 (attached below). Last week the amended bill was sent back to the Senate from the House. It would establish a 3-year program to return out-of-state homeless persons to their home state if passed.
The goal is to send an additional 500 persons per year back to the mainland and, in so doing, reduce Hawaii’s homelessness by 2,000 people in the next four years.
Those who may qualify for the program would participate voluntarily and not be part of any court proceedings that would keep them in Hawaii. It is possible that up to half of the return cost will be paid by the person’s family if they can. The state is also looking at ways to be sure that people don’t game the system of free return Hawaii flights.
Questions remain, including the state’s ability to staff and run the program. In reading the bill, we don’t see any mention of the length of residency in Hawaii to participate.
Prior Hawaii return-to-home program.
Previously the program was run by former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann. According to him, the program, which was in effect for six years, returned 744 persons, of which only 16 are known to have come back to Hawaii.
Then during Covid, those arriving without lodging were told to return to whence they came or face arrest. We recall in 2020, Kauai police arrested a 50-year-old visitor from Washington State who arrived on an Alaska Air plane from Seattle. When he indicated he had no accommodations and refused to let authorities find one, he was first taken to jail and later returned to Seattle.
That wasn’t a lone incident, as we also recall a Florida visitor arrested following an interisland flight when he could not provide proof of lodging. He was offered the same options.
Does New York export homeless persons to Hawaii?
It has been rumored multiple times over the years that New York has sent some homeless persons to places, including Hawaii. That is part of their “Special One-Time Assistance Program.” The destination to which they are being sent, in this case, Hawaii, allegedly has not been informed.