How many people live on Maui

theme - To travel

If homeless, then in paradise! At least that's how Brandon, a 34-year-old New Yorker, sees it. He has lived on the streets of Honolulu, Hawaii's capital, for several years. He doesn't remember how long exactly. After separating from his girlfriend on vacation, the former construction worker stayed on the island and slept on the beach for a few days. The days turned into years and now Brandon doesn't want to leave the street anymore, that's how comfortable he feels there. "The people are nice, I get enough to eat and live where other people go on vacation," he says.

Poverty and wealth go hand in hand in Hawaii. Around eight million tourists come here every year, six times as many as are at home here. Tourism is the state's main source of income, but wealthy visitors have also made the island more expensive. Clothing, food and bus trips cost a lot of money - and in addition to tourism, the island chain's isolated location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is also to blame for the high prices. Brandon is one of around 6,000 officially counted homeless people in Hawaii. The "Homelessness Research Institute" speaks of 45 homeless people per 10,000 inhabitants and thus of the highest per capita rate of all 50 US states. According to a report by the University of Hawaii, a total of around 14,000 people received assistance through a welfare program, such as shelter or food, in 2013. Eleven percent of them lived in Hawaii for less than a year or less, 42 percent are considered to be lifelong residents of the island state. Numbers that might not have been associated with Hawaii.

Sleeping on the beach

The Hawaiian state pays out around 140 US dollars (approx. 100 euros) a month in cash to anyone who does not have a permanent residence and gives out meal vouchers for the supermarket. Officially, homeless people are only allowed to spend the night in a few public spaces. However, they stay in many corners and are usually tolerated there, especially in the parks and on the beach - here they can sleep outside all year round because it stays warm. And the many beaches also have plenty of sanitary facilities. If you want to sleep in a real bed, you can exchange for a little work in the homeless shelter, where volunteers regularly offer medical treatment. One of those volunteers is Justin. The 37-year-old acupuncturist treats the homeless once a week in Wailuku on the island of Maui. "My mother was addicted to drugs and at some point became homeless. She died on the street. Somehow I feel like I owe it to her for helping out here." Justin, who is actually a Texan, has seen a lot in the homeless shelter. "The worst things made me want to move on. It's important. These people often have no one to talk to. They are alone."

Hang loose

Brandon has also received such free treatments. But he doesn't even feel that alone in Honolulu. With an armful of food he got at a restaurant in Waikiki, Honolulu's beachfront neighborhood, he goes to see his best buddy Scott, who is just a few feet from the restaurant on the street. They often hang out together, sometimes they go surfing. They are particularly proud of their boards. They were given as gifts by tourists who did not want to take them home with them at the end of their vacation.

Scott is originally from California, where he financed his life with odd jobs and was able to save the money for the Hawaii flight. After the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, he got stuck in the island nation for a few days when initially no civil air traffic was allowed to take place in the US air space. He liked the "Hang Loose", Hawaii's surfer motto, so much that he decided to stay without any real plan. He's been living on the streets of Honolulu for so long. Scott doesn't want to go back: "It's not easy as a homeless person in California, not at all. You are despised. Here in Hawaii, at least the people accept you," he says.

A lot of people feel like Scott and Brandon. Brandon thinks that this has to do with falling airfares and the proliferation of low-cost airlines and that you can now fly to Hawaii for a few hundred dollars. Much more people could afford a ticket - this is how homeless people from the mainland would come and stay. "The word has got around on the mainland that it can be endured here quite well," he says. The state now has to support many more people than its social programs provide. That is why the Hawaiian government decided in summer 2013 to start a pilot project - in the truest sense of the word: every year it plans to invest around 100,000 US dollars in one-way flight tickets for the homeless - so that they can fly to another state of their choice.

Air tickets as a lure

In the official report of the House of Representatives, it is said that in this way they want to take care of the social environment of the homeless and give them the opportunity to reunite with their families with a plane ticket to their home country. This is how John Mizuno, Democrat and Vice Speaker of the House of Representatives, put it in various newspaper interviews. The main goal of this "Return To Home" program is to save money. Mizuno confirms forbes magazine: "If 100 homeless people can be reunited with their families, the state of Hawaii could easily save millions in taxpayers' money." However, the program is only aimed at homeless people who come from the mainland, and it is part of a larger initiative that, for example, also wants to provide funding for homeless people who want to find work and invest in an apartment. After all, Brandon and Scott are not examples for all homeless people in Hawaii - some of them have had enough of the "Hang Loose" and would like to find work.

Tourists: a curse and a blessing at the same time

For Brandon and Scott, a free flight back to the mainland is not an option. The dreamy beach on which they wake up every morning is too tempting for them. And the harsh reality that would be offered to them on the mainland is too frightening - now that they have been out of everyday life there for so long. "There is no reason to leave paradise," they say. The tourists in their paradise are both a curse and a blessing for Brandon: they often come to the beach at night and are noisy there because they don't know that people are sleeping here. "But they give us money more often than locals. They are in the holiday mood, the money is looser. And they understand why we want to stay in Hawaii."

* "Aloha" is Hawaiian and has many meanings - including "love" and "nice". Aloha is ubiquitous in Hawaii and one is proud of it.


Deutsche Welle about a project in the west of O'ahu for poor and homeless young people.
Planet knowledge for basic knowledge about Hawaii.
Experience report of a travel blogger with a homeless person in Hawaii.
Die Welt in an illustrated book about the homeless in the USA.
English-language newspaper article on the subject in the Washington Times.
New York Times newspaper article on the subject.