It was another hot day in Honolulu, Hawaii when I walked outside my apartment to see my neighbors being forced out of their apartment. Walter, a Chuukese immigrant who has lived in Hawaii for almost eight years, has lived in his one-bedroom apartment for close to three years with his two sons and his wife. One day, Walter received a letter from his landlord telling him that he had five days to pack up and move to a different location because they had violated their lease agreement.
The letter stated that guests of any type were not allowed at this unit. Walter explained to me that in his collectivistic culture, it is common for families to get together frequently and he could not understand why they were being punished for having family over for dinners and gatherings. After acting as the overly-squeaky-wheel, only later did I find out that Walter and his family were being evicted because the landlord had decided to raise rent prices and redo the building.
This was a story quite different from the one that Walter and his family had been told. The situation that Walter and his family are experiencing is unfortunately not unique to them but has been happening across the board to far too many immigrants coming to Hawaii from the Micronesian islands. Walter and his family will soon find themselves in the same dire position as many others: Homeless in Hawaii with little to no resources or opportunities.
Last week, Civil Beat published a fascinating article on homelessness in Hawaii that left many (including us Social Workers) questioning the legality and ethical ramifications behind the Sit Lie Laws. The premise behind the Sit Lie laws is that they will hypothetically encourage those who are reluctant to enter shelters to do so more quickly. “Compassionate Disruption”, as Mayor Kirk Caldwell calls the sweeps, are designed to protect small businesses and move people off of the streets and into shelters; ultimately resulting in them being housed and ending the cycle of homelessness at a faster pace.
As shelters come close to reaching capacity and individuals with disabilities are being turned away, where are the homeless expected to go and what should we as Social Workers be doing for this disadvantaged population?
Walter and his family applied at a homeless shelter and were told to put their names on a waitlist and if something opened up, they would be notified. Almost a month later, and Walter had not received any news.
If individuals, like Walter, are doing everything they can to succeed despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles, what can be done to ensure that these types of vulnerable populations are protected against blatant discrimination and oppression?