Methods: Data were collected using a semi-structured interview tool and field observations. Within the three largest houseless encampments in the urban core of Honolulu, we recruited a convenience sample of individuals and families (n=70) living in public spaces who have directly experienced state enforcement of socio-spatial control.
Counter to the prevailing notion that the houseless are primarily "outsiders," the ethnic composition of the sample had a disproportionate amount of Native Hawaiian/Part Hawaiian (28 percent), Micronesians (19 percent) and Samoans (10 percent). Four groups (Filipino, Caucasian, Latino/Hispanic and Other Asian and Mixed Asian) represented 7 percent each with Other Pacific Islander and Mixed Pacific Islander representing 6 percent of the survey respondents.
Results: A significant percentage reported experiences receiving citations and/or going through the city “sweeps” or “enforcements” of the sit-lie ban policies in which their belongings were cleared by city workers. Over one-third (42 percent) of respondents reported receiving at least one or two citations, and about 9 percent received between three and eight citations. Over half (57 percent) reported experiencing one-two sweeps and 16 percent experienced three sweeps or more.
The impact of the sweeps and citations included additional economic setbacks for respondents (presumably causing prolonged houselessness) and trauma. Three specific effects emerged from the data: (1) property and economic losses (2) a reported sense of stress, alienation and stigmatization, as a direct result of enforcement actions and as a consequence of property and financial losses, and (3) sense of injustice due to chaotic and inconsistent enforcement of policies, burdens of forced relocation and disempowerment. Overwhelmingly, respondents (79%) stated that the sweeps and citations made them less likely or had no effect on their desire to go to a shelter.
Implications: Hawai‘i provides an important case study in the fight to end houselessness. The findings suggest that policy-makers should consider the negative impacts of socio-spatial control policies. Alternative policy directions include a ban on such criminalization policies, a focus on trauma-informed care and services and increased funding for culturally relevant houseless services. Due to the overrepresentation of Native Hawaiians, Samoans and Micronesians, however, service providers and advocates should consider indigenous practices, culture and healing in order to address historical trauma and colonization in addition to the trauma of being houseless in Hawai‘i.