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What Are the Social Problems in Hawaii?

Waikiki Beach Panorama view 180 degrees.

Hawaii Social Problems

Local Attitudes

This one is a catch-22. If your own attitude is poor – you’ll meet some of the nastiest people you ever didn’t want to know in Hawaii. That’s just the way it is everywhere, right? However, if you’ve got a cool attitude and are open to learning how things work before and during your time here – and you are friendly, outgoing, and a decent person all around you’ll be blissed out to meet the coolest bunch of people you ever knew.

Give first – and you’ll get more in return. Such has been my experience meeting new people in Hawaii. The Hawaiian spirit of Aloha is really a wonderful philosophy of life and I hope you get to experience it in heaps during your stay. If you’re not the type of person that deals well with cultural diversity or have a lack of common sense, you may not do well in Hawaii and it can be a very cold place for the ignorant, clueless, and heartless.

Racism in Hawaii

I haven’t experienced it much. When I do experience it, it’s usually a frustration by locals in regards to something I’m doing. Maybe I don’t know a road as well as they do and I do something stupid as I drive. I might hear – ‘Stupid haole! Go back to the mainland!’. I’ve heard that one before, at night, by a drunk Hawaiian girl late on a Saturday night.

I’ve had knives held up so I could see them on a couple of occasions. I’ve never been attacked, and I don’t know anyone that has because they were visitors to the island or moved here and weren’t locals.

There is a tension that can exist between locals and some visitors that take Hawaii for granted and that don’t treat others with respect. Locals will put you in your place in some cases… and it’s not a reason to not move to the islands – it’s just something to be aware of. Though 4 guys held knives up to me and the girl I had in the car – I didn’t really feel threatened like they were going to jump out of the car and attack us. It was more like an empty threat designed to scare us into staying out of their neighborhood.

If we hadn’t – would be have been attacked? No, I don’t think so – but, I have this philosophy that people that want to be left alone in Hawaii – in their own little world, should be allowed to be left alone.

Hawaii Crime – Types

Violent Crime

Assault, rape, and murder is less of an issue in Hawaii than on the Mainland. It does happen, but the most common types of crime in Hawaii include car and home break-ins, stolen cars and purse snatchings.

Theft

On a couple different occasions as I was far out on the waves bodyboarding I saw guys looking through my bag on the beach. I yelled – but who’s going to chase down a young kid on drugs for you? Not many. Not me!

Auto smash and grabs, purse snatches, wallet snatchers, bike thieves… they’re all here in Hawaii. It has to be expected as there is a huge gulf between the haves and have-nots. The have nots get theirs too, but before it’s theirs – it was yours.

You will have some of your things taken. Be smart and try to limit your losses. What I usually do when I park by the beach, is roll down all my windows and take whatever is valuable with me in a backpack.

I’ve never had my car stolen, nor had a window broken. Friends I know have had windows broken numerous times.

Waikiki and Town, Highway Traffic Congestion

Worst on Oahu, and between 6 am – 8 am and 4 pm – 6 pm.

Hawaii residents that need to commute somewhere, or that travel during rush hours or lunch hour often complain about traffic being bad. Highways H1, H2 on Oahu and the Honoapiilani Highway on Maui are frequently jammed up during this time. Sitting in traffic is no fun.

Why is traffic so bad?

On Oahu, there are a few reasons for the traffic problem:

1. The overwhelming majority of jobs are in town. Not everyone can, or wants to, live in town – so they commute from wherever they are – from west toward town usually. This results in huge crowds on the road during rush hours.

2. There are over 1 million vehicles registered in Hawaii state.

3. The roads are under built. Meaning, there are not enough roads for the area of Hawaii – so everyone must use the same roads. This is largely a function of topography, with mountainous regions covering the islands and leaving scant space for flat roads or roads up through the mountains. Hawaii legislators are cautious about building roads up through areas that retain their natural beauty – which, traffic be damned, is a good thing in most peoples’ opinion.

4. The roads are not wide enough in many places. Tight roads mean longer lines – and Hawaiian roads were not really built with the idea that they’d need to expand them width-wise for some reason. There is little room to expand the width of most roads in town because building structures are already too close to the street. There is no space.

The state has various programs in place to help the flow of traffic including contraflow lanes, high occupancy vehicle lanes (1+ people in the vehicle), coordinated stoplights, and improving public transportation like TheBus.

For more than 20 years there has been talk about creating a sky train system, but the cost up to this point has been prohibitive. Such a train would definitely take some of the traffic off the roadways because some people I know would do anything to have an alternative to driving into town in the bad traffic daily.

Driving and Getting Around

I used my mountain bike quite a bit while living in Waikiki. Was it dangerous? Sure it was, most tourists are looking around at the amazing sites and are not paying attention to bicycles on the street. I preferred it to driving my Honda around a lot of times.

Rush hours and weekends where there is an event of some kind going on – are a real nightmare and you’ll not want to live far from where you work unless you live in downtown and work in Kapolei or somewhere else there is no traffic. Traffic goes toward the downtown and Waikiki areas in the morning and away during evening rush hour.

If you’re working far from where you live on Oahu, Hawaii then traffic is going to be an issue. A big issue for some. It never bothered me that much because how upset can I really get sitting in an air conditioned car listening to my favorite music, drinking amazing coffee and looking at all the people around me?

Not that bothered. Hawaii traffic can really get some in a tizzy though. It’s atrocious during rush hours on Oahu. On Maui – not a big deal, small spots of traffic during rush hour in Kahului. On Kauai – traffic is non-existent, ditto that for Molokai and Lanai. On Big Island I can’t say – but I haven’t heard that it’s anything like Oahu.

FYI – Directions (mauka, makai, Diamond Head, Ewa

Directions are often given using words other than north, south, east and west. Hawaii locals have followed their tradition by talking about direction in terms of places on the islands.

  • Mauka means toward the mountain.
  • Makai means toward the ocean.
  • Ewa means toward Ewa beach – past Pearl Harbor.
  • Diamond Head means toward the volcano in Waikiki.

Too Many Police Worried About Seat Belts?

Add to the poor driving situation the fact that the Honolulu police seem to be everywhere.  There is a higher police presence in Waikiki than I have experienced anywhere else in the nation.

If you are late putting your seatbelt on – they are there standing in the middle of the street looking for people that put on the seatbelt late! If you coast through a stop sign – even slightly – they’re on you. If you speed – they got ya! If you ride in the wrong lane on the highway – you’re toast. It seems that you cannot win driving a vehicle in the islands. This in particular was no fun for me at all. As I said, I used the bike or walked a lot while living in the islands.

Parking in Town and at Tourist Attractions

I mentioned parking above, but it deserves its own section. Parking on Oahu, Hawaii is a serious inconvenience. On the other islands it is not so bad, but still – it’s no joy!

For instance… drive down to Waikiki to swim at “The Wall”. There is a parking lot close to it – and it’s packed every weekend, and weekdays too unless you get there before about 9 am. There are parking meters. You’ll get just 10 minutes for 1 quarter (or less now). There is a maximum of 2 or 3 hours you can stay before the meter runs out. If you happen not to remember the meter is running out as you’re bodyboarding, bodysurfing, surfing, sunning, or whatever you’re doing – you’ll get a $35 parking ticket the very instant the meter expires because there are meter-maids camped-out at that parking lot trying to earn their daily pay.

The parking situation in town is quite bad, and you should expect to pay every time you park. You won’t have to – but, if you expect it – and then do not have to pay sometimes – you’ll be in a better mood. Oh, one more thing – if you park on private property – your vehicles will be towed very quickly – and it costs $100+ to retrieve it – and they charge you for keeping your vehicle for every night you leave it at the impound facility.

I can’t count the number of times I parked on private property at night as I was going to clubs in downtown. Sometimes I didn’t see the sign, other times I thought – who is going to care if I park here?

The owners care. Boy do they care!

Homelessness

Like everywhere in the U.S. there are homeless people living in Hawaii. Some are happy to be homeless, and some are not – but, they are here and increasing in numbers.

Homeless folks live at the beach, on the west side of Oahu near Kaena Point, in the parks, on the streets, under highways, and even underneath Hawaiian Schools portable facilities.

Some have cars, and you might see a whole family loving in one. Small tent cities pop up from one place to another, and various plans for a large tent city have been introduced over the years – but are usually shot down by neighboring communities afraid crime will increase in their neighborhood.

Across the state there are about 15,000 people that are homeless at some point during the year. On any given day there are about 6,000 homeless folks.

The number of homeless people in Hawaii has increased by more than 60 percent since 2000. U.S Census data shows that Hawaii’s increase in poverty is among the highest in the USA.

At least 11.5% of Hawaii’s population is living in poverty. Even though Hawaii has a warm climate year-round and there could be worse places to be homeless, robbery, assault, rape, and other crimes still exist and are a threat to homeless people.

Why are there so many homeless people living in Hawaii?

1. The Welfare Reform Act, 1994. This act limits the number of years families on federal welfare can collect benefits to just 5 years. In many cases, it is literally impossible for the family to do anything else to come up with money in Hawaii’s limited economy.

2. High cost of living. Housing costs are the highest in the U.S. here in Hawaii, and there are precious few low-income homes for those that can’t afford the $900,000 three bedroom, two bath home.

3. Drug addiction and underfunded mental health programs.

Hawaii’s Illegal Drug Epidemic

Drug abuse and addiction is a large factor contributing to crime in the islands. Crimes involving illegal drugs comprised over half of the total convictions in the state in 2001.

The national average for the USA is 41.2%.

Methamphetamine (crystal meth, ice) is the most commonly used illegal drug in Hawaii – besides marijuana. Of all the criminal convictions that were related to drug abuse – ice made up over half of all cases.

Social workers expect the range of problems caused by crystal meth to eventually reach everyone in the islands. Not that everyone will be addicted, but, the effects of those using it – break ins, car accidents, friends or family using it – will touch each of us on the islands at some point.

There is no doubt it’s use is rampant. I remember in 2002 I was met at the airport by a woman I knew online, and had befriended. She was taking me to my hotel when she pulled out some white rocks and proceeded to light them up in a pipe she had.

I was aghast to say the least. I’d never been around anyone that smoked the stuff – nor did I want to start! That was the end of that brief friendship!

Apparently it is used so commonly that many locals think it’s just like smoking pot and they are open about it.

Though there are no hard numbers to point to regarding crystal meth use or addiction in Hawaii, something can be said about the extent of the problem by looking at the number of addicts that attended addiction treatment for its use. 2,730 people entered treatment facilities for the drug in 2002. That is higher than for all those that attended alcohol and marijuana treatment programs the same year.

Noise in Paradise?

Before moving to Thailand I had thought that Hawaii, Waikiki in particular, was loud and noisy. Now I have a new perspective on things. Thailand’s noise levels make Waikiki seem like a church eulogy service.

You may not have the same perspective, and you might think that the part of Hawaii you stay in is loud. There is a lot of construction going on in Hawaii – and sometimes it is right next door. If they’re building a 50 story condominium, you’re likely to be hearing noise for a couple of years before it stops… only to be replaced by someone building something else within hearing range.

Living in town is not going to fill your ears with Mynah birds and soft rain showers… Instead, the sounds of the city prevail – construction, traffic, horns, car alarms. If you’re not prepared for it – it can all be a surprise. Come prepared if you plan on living in any real city on the islands.

It’s almost funny how clearly you can hear the garbage trucks around the islands come at 4-6 am. They are very loud, and there is no other sound going on to drowned out their roar. Then, to top it off – they have the beep-beep-beep going on every time they reverse – as a safety precaution. Get used to it – it probably will affect you wherever you are in Hawaii. I can’t remember not being affected by it, even staying 22 floors up in a condo on the Ala Wai Canal.

About the author: Aloha! I’m “Vern”. I created this site to focus on Hawaii – all the islands – Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Big Island and even Molokai and Lanai and Kahoolawe when I can find information on them. I love living in Hawaii, and I think you would too. I hope you come away with something positive as a result of visiting Aim for Awesome. Feel free to add comments or contact me through email. All written content on this site by Vern Lovic. Contact me at Google+. Best of Life to You in 2013 – Aloha!

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  • heather

    My husband and I will be going to Hawaii in a couple of weeks for our 5 year anniversary. I’ve been there a couple of times and it is one of my favorite places I’ve ever been to in the world. I thought maybe this time we could kind of give back to the community for allowing us to visit such an amazing place, so I was wondering if anyone knew of a community service project we could help with — something the community could really use help with, like maybe a homeless shelter or an orphanage or school or something. Let me know if you know of anything! Thanks.

    Heather

    • Great idea… I don’t know of any. Hopefully someone will chime in here…

    • Mr. Julius

      hi heather… tons of places to volunteer just go to the aloha united way website to help you connect to different places. just google it. :)

  • Kauaibrad

    Kauai has slow traffic through Kapaa when the island is busy.