There is a thin line between tolerance and intolerance; between compassion and dispassion. The residents, business owners, and visitors alike, on Oahu, have reached the breaking point. Fed up and with no recourse some residents, and business owners, have turned a corner to intolerance of the island’s homeless population.
Soliciting money, harassment, crime, loss of revenue and the deranged and psychotic behavior of segments of the homeless population, is affecting the livelihood of local merchants, quality of life for the residents, and marring the visitor experience on the island.
On Nov. 20, in discussion with the Honolulu Police Community Affairs Office, I spoke with Officer Scroggins, a 24-year veteran of the force. I asked Scroggins, what should law abiding citizens do to protect themselves immediately, when confronted by, harassed, and provoked by an aggressive mentally ill homeless person?
Scroggins’ replied, “You do have the right to defend yourself, but you can also walk away.”
I asked Scroggins, if a citizen is attacked and forced to protect them self, a physical altercation ensues, there are no witnesses at the scene, will this result in the citizens being arrested for defending themselves? Wouldn’t the burden of proof fall on the victim?
“You do have the right to defend yourself, you don’t have to wait for officer assistance if you feel threatened or in danger, when the officers arrive, let them know that you took a defensive stance,” Scoggins said. The ‘defensive stance claim’ establishes your position in the altercation.
The mentally ill homeless are creating public safety issues throughout Oahu. The police can’t act until after an altercation occurs, in spite of openly aggressive and deranged behavior exhibited by the homeless. This leaves residents and visitors vulnerable to be accosted.
Honolulu, is under siege by its mentally ill homeless population. They appear everywhere from Waikiki, the visitor mecca of Oahu, to practically every street corner of the Downtown Honolulu, business district. They’re harassing people at the major shopping centers, parks, beaches, and on public transportation in droves.
A number of the mentally ill homeless quickly become aggressive, and are prone to harassment. Provoking behavior along with an “in your face” attitude, while spewing profanities and threats, is an everyday occurrence around the island. How long will this sort behavior be tolerated? A zero tolerance approach seems inevitable.
What’s being done to get the homeless some much needed mental health services? Clearly not enough.
In seeking answers, and contacting the Institute for Human Services, a non-profit organization that receives millions of dollars in Federal grants, State paid shelter stipends, and monetary support from the community, to assist in operating the state’s homeless shelters. I spoke with Development and Community Relations Manager, Kimo Carvalho.
Carvalho offered anecdotal statistics on how many homeless people were placed in housing historically, via the services of the organization. The number pales by comparison to the actual overall number of homeless people in the state, during the placement period.
When Carvalho was questioned further about the mentally ill sector of the homeless population, he responded by quoting a false statistic on the percentage of the homeless who suffer from mental illness, claiming “it’s only 7%.”
According to the U.S, Department of Housing and Urban Development’s June 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (2010 AHAR,) and in conjunction with a five-year report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, (SAMHSA.)
“Mental Illness & Substance Use Data from research conducted in the past five years indicates that in the U.S., about 30% of people who are chronically homeless have mental health conditions, and about 50% have co-occurring substance use problems.”
Carvalho’s attempt to underplay the true number of mentally ill homeless people on the island, and minimize the crisis plaguing Oahu, is an epic fail. It affirms the lack of urgency to take more aggressive action by IHS in its so-called ‘homeless outreach program,’ to remove the mentally ill homeless from the streets.
Critics of the IHS effort in combating homelessness would concur, that a concerted effort in homeless outreach should be directed at the mentally ill sector of the homeless population. This in the interest of public safety.
According to the State of Hawaii, Department of Human Services, Homeless Programs Office, a 2013 report places the homeless count at 4,565 on Oahu. The largest concentration of homeless in the state. This is a large number for a small island.
Reported in 2013, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, ranked Hawaii as having one of the highest homeless rates per capita.
With 30% or more of the homeless suffering from mental illness, combined with drug use in some cases, Hawaii has reached crisis proportion. Immediate action is needed to reduce the number of homeless on the street, with an urgent emphasis on the mentally ill sector.
While the homeless cannot be forced off of the street even when assistance is available to them, they must volunteer to accept help, according to IHS. Seemingly, in some cases the homeless are actively choosing to stay on the street.
Homeless Shelters have rules of conduct, curfews, and require an effort be made by the clients to help themselves, by finding work, attending substance abuse programs and mental health treatment. One could conclude that if someone turns down assistance, they may be looking for a handout and not a hand in helping themselves.
Stronger laws are in effect in a number of U.S. States, to criminalize the so-called homeless lifestyle. Perhaps these laws will facilitate a reconsideration for the homeless to accept, and seek assistance, in transitioning from their life on the street.