img Proposals

Decreasing Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Homelessness
ONC Editorial

Aug 24, 2023

A three-point plan to curb homelessness rates among the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population. (The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author, whose information can be found below.)

Big Picture:

The high costs of living in America disproportionately impacts the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) population that originated in the Islands of Hawai’i. Land set aside for the native communities have limitations that should be addressed. Current programs have failed to make progress due to the ongoing pandemic that has only exacerbated the rise of homelessness in the state. Public action needs to be taken with caution to protect NHPI rights.

Operative Definitions:

  1. Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI): Individuals whose ancestors originated in Oceania, including Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia. 
  2. Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920: The act created a Hawaiian Homes Commission to administer certain public lands, called Hawaiian homelands, for homesteads.
  3. Self-Sufficiency: Earning a total family income at a level that enables a family unit to support itself without receipt of a cash assistance grant. 
  4. The Kauhale Initiative: A traditional and cultural model of housing that uses tiny homes to build communities of permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless individuals currently residing in a particular area. 

Important Facts and Statistics:

  1. The Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) released that Honolulu County on the island of O’ahu had the highest self-sufficiency income requirements for all family types, except for the two-adult family model in 2018: (1) A single adult with no children needed to earn an hourly wage of $17.21 in 2018 to meet his/her basic needs and be economically self-sufficient, (2) a two-adult couple with no children required a combined hourly wage of $21.64, or approximately $10.82 each on average, (3) a single adult with a preschool-aged child needed to make an hourly wage of $29.51 to be economically self-sufficient, (4) a single adult with one preschool-aged child and one school-aged child needed to make an hourly wage of $36.76, (5) two-adult family with one preschool-aged child and one school-aged child needed to make a combined hourly wage of $39.32, or $19.66 each on average.
  2. Of the homeless individuals surveyed in the 2020 PIT count, 47 percent of adults indicated that they were eligible for Hawaiian Homelands, but only 16 percent indicated that they were on the waitlist.
  3. The minimum wage in Hawai’i is $10.10.

Three-Point Plan:

(1) Raise the minimum wage to a living wage. If one is working a full-time, minimum wage paying job, their annual income is $21,000. Hawai’i Statute 201-3(b) requires that “the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) establish and update biennially a self-sufficiency standard incorporating existing methods of calculation, and reflecting costs.” As there are different costs that vary between counties, the minimum wage necessary to fund one’s basic needs (housing, food, transportation) differs across islands. To mitigate the increase and effects of homelessness statewide, the minimum wage should be raised to a living, self-sufficient wage of $17.63. This would be a 74.5 percent increase in hourly income per person earning minimum wage. Increasing the minimum wage by $2.51 over three years would provide a gradual increase in wage that would be more feasible for small businesses.

(2) Increase Units for the Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL). If state legislature allots funding, the DHHL has plans to develop 1,300 new residential lots from 2020-2024. It would take 110 years to be able to serve the 28,000+ individuals currently on the waitlist. To shelter Native Hawaiians in an affordable and cost-effective manner, the state legislature should fund the development of further residential units.

(3) Push for Legislature to Fund Models for Homelessness Intervention Initiatives. The Kauhale Initiative uses tiny homes to build communities for chronically homeless individuals. Still in its conceptual stage, the state of Hawai’i intends to build 12 of these tiny home communities  throughout the islands. Each village will cost between $2.5 million and $5 million. Legislature can help by pushing for funding for more intervention initiatives similar to Kauhale.

Economic Impact (From Our Student Economist Team): 

As the minimum wage increases, the cost of living also increases as individuals drive up supply & demand with more income to spend. While it may be effective to raise the minimum wage in an affordability sense, it may not be as effective as raising the minimum wage and implementing government assistance programs to get homeless individuals into shelters. Chronic homelessness cannot simply be solved by raising the minimum wage because homeless individuals may have trouble finding jobs for various reasons including, but not limited to, lacking a bank account because they do not have a physical address, no access to work and interview appropriate clothing, and a lack of transportation. There may also be an unfavorable economic impact due to the increasing cost of living associated with raising minimum wage, thus making this policy economically unfeasible. However, raising the minimum wage is one step towards a larger plan to mitigate NHPI homelessness. 

At the present time, there is not enough land and/or affordable housing hosted by the DHHL given that 28,000+ individuals exist on the ~110 year long waitlist. This particular effort is inefficient. Economically, these efforts were appropriate at the time of implementation given that they were provided through government efforts to mitigate homelessness. Due to economic decline, government funding necessary to continue these programs may need to be re-evaluated for economic plausibility. 


The following student worked on this proposal: Tatianna Staszkow, Wheaton College (MA).


“About the Department of Hawaiian Homelands.” Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, US Congress, 26 Dec. 2020,

Green, Josh. The Kauhale Initiative, HomeAid Hawaii,

“Homeless in Hawaii : Facts and Resources.” Homeless In Hawaii : Facts and Resources, Lt. Governor of the State of Hawaii Josh Green,

“Natural Resources Conservation Service.” Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Island Special Emphasis Program | NRCS Vermont, United States Department of Agriculture,

Point in Time Count, State of Hawaii Homelessness Initiative, 2020,

“Self-Sufficiency Income Standard -” Self-Sufficiency Income Standard, Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism December, Dec. 2019,

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