Abstract: The Impact of 'compassionate Disruption' Policies on Indigenous Populations: The Criminalization of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Houseless in Hawaii (Society for Social Work and Research 22nd Annual Conference - Achieving Equal Opportunity, Equity, and Justice)

613P The Impact of 'compassionate Disruption' Policies on Indigenous Populations: The Criminalization of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Houseless in Hawaii

Sunday, January 14, 2018
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Sarah Soakai, MURP (Masters in Urban and Regional Planning), Doctoral Student, University of California at Los Angeles - Luskin School of Public Affairs, Los Angeles, CA
Susan Nakaoka, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI
Background and Purpose: In response to rising houselessness in many U.S. cities, local governments have enacted “quality of life,” “public nuisance” or “anti-vagrancy” policies.  These statutes, which houseless advocates claim criminalize the poor, includes socio-spatial control measures such as “sit-lie” bans and prohibitions on eating, sleeping, or storing property in public spaces. Local officials use rhetoric such as “compassionate disruption”—a term used by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell—to promote these policies that are supposedly intended to push people to shelters.  The negative impact of socio-spatial control policies is especially concerning for indigenous populations, since they have already experienced decades of historical trauma and colonization.  Understanding the experiences of houseless Native Hawaiians, Micronesians and Samoans will assist service providers in providing culturally appropriate interventions and services.

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.