The only Indigenous people on these islands – Kānaka Maoli of Hawaii, and Taotao Håya (Chamorro), Refaluwasch, and Tagata Samoa of U.S. Territories in the Pacific (which span Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa) – are not recognized as sovereign. They have no current treaties with the United States, and continue to face erasure following the illegal overthrow of its monarchy in 1893 and acquisition through the Spanish-American War despite fierce resistance.
This erasure has continued for more than a century. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have been overlooked in mainstream conversations about advancing racial equity, reducing disparities, and shifting power to those most impacted even though they have the highest rates of homelessness, with 121 out of every 10,000 people experiencing homelessness as of 2022.
Now is the time for us to sound the alarm for people experiencing homelessness who are Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander. Guam is still recovering from Typhoon Mawar, and news continues to emerge about the devastating wildfires in Maui and Hawaii Island. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders were disproportionately experiencing homelessness long before the recent wildfires hit:
- People experiencing homelessness who identify as Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders increased by 19% between 2020 and 2022 (Annual Homelessness Assessment Report Part 1).
- Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islanders with very low incomes had the highest rates of severe rent burden by race in 2019 (Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR) Part 2).
- According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Out of Reach: The High Cost of Housing report, Hawaii is second, only to California, with the highest housing wage in the United States.
- Data collection efforts focused on Pacific Islander groups are limited and need to become more precise to understand the significant disparities in homelessness, housing affordability, and rent burden.
“The outcomes of major disasters are nearly always inequitable, which increases the vulnerability of those who struggled before the disaster and often displaces large portions of communities – as disasters become more frequent and severe, it is more important than ever to determine what can be done to promote more just and equitable disaster recovery.”
– Disaster Justice for All: The Need for a More Equitable and Just Recovery Lens, Allesandra Jerolleman
If providers and public officials do not act swiftly and equitably to provide recovery efforts, these disparities will only grow larger as people are displaced into homelessness. While President Biden signed an emergency declaration to provide significant and much needed federal aid to both Guam and Hawaii, I can’t help but wonder about the Indigenous people experiencing homelessness on both islands. So, what can we do?
- Communities everywhere can ensure visibility for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders experiencing homelessness in your racial equity conversations and work to reduce disparities in homelessness.
- If you have an existing community of Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders within your Continuum of Care, prepare for incoming Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders experiencing homelessness who may be reuniting with family members who are already displaced.
- State and local governments can work with Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander organizations to ensure they have the flexible resources immediately available.
- Anyone reading this blog interested in taking action can share within your networks or directly support local mutual aid groups working to provide immediate shelter and resources to the people of Maui.
People who are already impacted by colonialism and systemic racism are typically disproportionately affected by natural disasters, often impacting economic and housing stability. As recovery efforts ensue, it is important to recognize these harmful effects and work to ensure that Kānaka Maoli are not left behind during recovery.
In the coming weeks, the Alliance will be raising awareness about disaster preparedness for homeless response systems.