Hawaii Is Looking to the Past for an Inventive Solution for the Homeless


All across the United States, a movement for using assistive housing to end chronic homelessness is gaining traction. In Hawaii, that initiative has made its way into mainstream policy debate as well, but with an unusual twist: The housing would include grass huts.

According to the Associated Press, Hawaii state Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland is planning on unveiling a bill that would allow homeless people to live in "hale," traditional thatched domiciles native to the state, although one that currently isn't known to house any living communities. Chun Oakland came up with the idea to introduce the bill after she was contacted by a cultural practitioner practitioner who argued that the cultural background of the people being assisted should be factored into the type of housing provided. 

Proponents of the grass huts plan find it to be more naturally suited for housing larger extended families, cheaper and more environmentally friendly than typical modern housing.

But there are some concerns. Safety regulations for the traditional grass huts have to be hammered out. And when one critic in the nonprofit sector asked if the huts would be equipped with bathrooms, Oakland said "the details haven't been fully worked out," according to the AP.

The grass huts housing legislation is being considered alongside a raft of other bills intended to ease housing problems in Hawaii.

While the fate of the initiative to provide a more diverse array of housing options for the homeless is entirely up in the air, the underlying premise of the policy is well-grounded. There's loads of evidence that the most cost-effective and humane way to manage homelessness is to use housing as a way to rehabilitate people rather than rely on an ad hoc set of services like shelters, soup kitchens and emergency rooms.