HONOLULU (KHON2) — When you think of Hilo, you probably think of gorgeous cloudy days and the Merrie Monarch Festival.

What you probably don’t think of is the number of houseless individuals and families this small community has. The issue of houselessness in Hilo is indicative of a much greater problem the Hawaiʻi and the United States is having.

We will not know until later in the spring what Hawaiʻi Island’s Point in Time Count found with regards to number of people experiencing houselessness. But their 2023 numbers showed that 1,003 people were counted. With a population of 200,629, as of the 2020 census, the houseless population is estimated to occupy 0.5% of the population.

A new study has found that record numbers of people in the U.S. cannot afford their rent or are having to spend more than a third of their income on rent.

According to Hope Services Hawaiʻi, residents on Hawaiʻi Island are feeling this in a dire way.

Hope Services indicates that as of 2022, more than 21,000 residents rent their homes on the island; that is one third of the population. The minimum wage at that time was approximately $10 while rent, broken down into hourly payments, for a two-bedroom apartment was approximately $28 per hour.

This means that a person must earn approximately $42 per hour in order to pay for rent and all the other expenses associated with existence in our modern world.

“With the average household income of our families making less than $29,000/year and the cost of housing increasing, more and more households are falling into homelessness or at risk of becoming unhoused,” warned Brandee Menino who is the CEO of Hope Services Hawaiʻi.

Even with the minimum wage increase to $14 that occurred in January, there is still a disparity of $14 an hour to cover rent. But housing prices have increased since 2022, too…

“The National Alliance to end Homelessness published a report last year stating that Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders experience homelessness at far greater rates than any other racial group in the country,” added Menino.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the numbers end up cascading like this in the state of Hawaiʻi in 2023:

  • Their stats rely on a $12 per hour minimum wage in which the worker earns approximately $25,000 per year for 52 40-hour work weeks.
  • NLIHC indicates that rent should be 30% or less of an annual income.
  • However, rent far exceeds what workers earn leading to the following:
    • In order for a worker to rent a 2-bedroom apartment, that worker must work 139 hours per week which translates into holding down 3.5 full-time jobs simultaneously.
    • In order for a worker to rent a 1-bedroom apartment, that worker must work 107 hours per week which translates into holding down 2.7 full-time jobs simultaneously.
  • None of these stats include income needed for the following: electricity, internet, food/groceries, school supplies and fees, phone services, automobile payments and maintenance, gasoline/electricity for automobiles, medical and insurance bills (medical, home, auto), clothing, childcare, miscellaneous and emergency expenses.
  • None of this information examines the condition of homeowners’ wages versus mortgage payments and fees in Hawaiʻi.

For an in-depth look at what NLIHC has found with regards to each island’s income versus housing disparities, click here.

Here are good visual summary breakdowns from NLIHC and Hope Services Hawaiʻi of the above information:

In recent years, the question has been why are there so many houseless persons in places like Oʻahu, which had an estimated >4,000 houseless population in 2023. We don’t really get too many questions on why wages are so low and how we can more fairly compensate our workers to prevent them from being the working poor and the working houseless.

There are some rumblings about affordable housing, but few if any of these resources are penetrating into benefits for the workforce of Hawaiʻi.

Hope Services Hawaiʻi has an array of donation opportunities for those who want to give back to their community along with a vast network of services for those who need it.

So, what will it take for us to demand better? What will it take for workers who contribute to Hawaiʻi’s robust economy to be able to afford housing? What will it take for workers to insist that they be compensated in such a way that they can develop a productive and healthy work-life balance? What will it take?