HILO, Hawaii — The exterior tropical paradise image of Hawaii Island has an ugly underbelly of a rapidly increasing homeless population. Yet state officials remain puzzled by the increase.
State figures show that Hawaii Island's homeless population has more than doubled in the last two years. There was no mention in the annual point-in-time count of the homeless situation for any of the State's other islands.
The count showed the homeless population on Hawaii Island increased from 557 in 2013 to 869 in 2014 with 1,241 reported so far for in 2015.
Funding for homeless support services has not kept up with the rising homeless population.
Brandee Menino, CEO of Hope Services Hawaii said approximately 60 percent of the homeless they served last year were completely new to their programs, and mostly local residents. Of that number fewer less than seven percent were from outside of Hawaii.
"We've been experiencing a high increase in homelessness -- 53 percent from fiscal year 2013 to 2014. We've seen an increase in all areas of the island-- Hilo, Pahoa, Oceanview, Kailua-Kona, Honoka'a. On nearly every island in every region -- homelessness is increasing," she said.
According to a report in Hawaii News Now, the number of sheltered homeless grew from 160 to 220 in three years, while the number of unsheltered increased from 397 to 1,021 in the same time period.
Officials are at a loss to explain why, exactly, the increase has occurred and whether or not the trend looks set to continue into the future or is related to a one time event. Possible causes include the gentrification of the island, with house prices steeply appreciating or unreported unemployment due to workers out of work yet not registering their status while being homeless and thus not showing up in unemployment figures.