Maui Fire adds to Hawaii’s homeless challenge

August 23, 2023

The deadly Maui wildfires have destroyed hundreds of homes, displacing thousands of locals, adding to Hawaii’s homelessness challenges. 

Also among the charred remains are 78 long-term and temporary housing units owned by the homelessness resource center, Ka Hale A Ke Ola. The shelters were constructed in 2003 and offer shelter to roughly 6,000 unhoused people nightly.

Hawaii has the fifth highest rate of homelessness as compared to all other U.S. states, territories and the District of Columbia. Meanwhile, Hawaii’s housing costs are at a rate 2.7 times higher than the national average, according to a report from the University of Hawaii. Further, rent averages $2,500 per month. That’s on top of Hawaii already coping with the nation’s highest cost of living, in part because of its locale, roughly 2,400 miles from the U.S. mainland.

This past January, Gov. Josh Green (D) issued an emergency proclamation on homelessness in the state. He renewed it in July. The order expedites construction and housing repairs that are designed to transition people out of homelessness. 

But then came the wildfires. The flames erupted on the island of Maui on August 8, fueled by fierce winds from Hurricane Dora in the Pacific. The town of Lahaina was hit the worst with the flames leaving little more than melted cars and scorched, skeletal remains of buildings.

The flames also added thousands more to Hawaii’s unhoused population.

Currently, hundreds of displaced families have either relocated to loved ones’ homes or have moved to hotels that are offering shelter. According to the Red Cross, families will need housing support for about seven to eight months, at least.

On Monday, President Biden appointed FEMA Regional Administrator Bob Fenton as “Chief Federal Response Coordinator” for Maui to oversee the long-term coordinated federal wildfire recovery.

During his and First Lady Jill Biden’s visit Monday to survey the wreckage and speak with the survivors on Maui, the President vowed to rebuild “the way people of Maui want it built.”  

For info on different ways to assist in Hawaii’s recovery, log onto Maui Nui Strong here.


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