Public Policy



Volume 50 Number 1
Winter 2017

Public Policy

Edited by Dan Cooper

Why do we have to be politically correct?

Written by Fabricio E. Balcazar, PhD.,, University of Illinois at Chicago

Current events regarding the discourse in the national elections, particularly by the GOP candidate, are raising alarm about the importance of being politically correct and the dangers of failing to do so. Although there are many topics that have been affected by this practice, one refers to the anger and frustration with immigrants, and undocumented immigrants in particular, who are being blamed for low wages and unemployment rates among White Americans. Other targeted groups include followers of the Muslim faith who are being widely characterized as potential terrorists, African Americans who for many years have been characterized as lazy and welfare dependents, gays and lesbians who are being blamed for the “destruction of the family structure as we know it,” and so on. Carolyn Lukensmeyer, the director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse, which is a non-partisan advocacy group, commented on NPR that “we now seem to cross a line where the commitment to plurality and civil society is being lost.” She is not alone in expressing her concern.

There is a fundamental need for all of us to tolerate and respect our differences. This is what we as parents and teachers instill in our children every day: To get along with one another, and to respect each other regardless of our differences. Political correctness refers to the avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against. This is a most fundamental norm of social engagement and the one that keeps societies from falling apart.

So failing to do so could have several implications. First, does it means that people in the streets would be free to insult each other, call each other hurtful names or use derogatory words, be mutually aggressive, and now that so many people in the country are actually armed, proceed to kill each other? Based on what we see in the news about political rallies when adversaries confront each other, that appears to be the case. People seem to be yelling at each other with hatred while no one appears to be listening. In fact, “Inside Edition” reported about the March 10th African American protester struck at a Trump political rally, that the aggressor said, “he deserved to be punched and next time I may have to kill him.”

Yes, it is true that most of us have some kind of bias toward someone, yet we all have to confront our prejudices and accept our differences. The process of becoming a loving and caring person involves challenging beliefs about others that may be misguided as a result of ignorance or previous negative experiences. Unfortunately for many people, the media plays a central role in perpetuating harmful stereotypes and maintaining social biases. The media tend to exploit and feed the flames of fear in our hearts. A recent report from a Harvard-Northeastern survey of 4,000 gun owners pointed out that the majority of people in the U.S. who have guns now do so because of fear of “bad guys.”

We all need to come to terms with our own prejudices in order to start the healing and understanding process, first internally and then in the community. We all can change and must change if we are to get along and recognize and accept our differences. This is not a trivial process of self-reflection. It is at the heart of personal understanding and can define the type of person we become—and define the type of Nation we become.

As a community psychologist, I care very much about the process of building a sense of community and belonging that allow us to get along and help each other in pursuing the common good. We emphasize the importance of reinforcing the strengths and competencies of people rather than their deficits; we operate from an ecological perspective that tries to move away from blaming the victim for his/her predicament and instead focus on examining the role of the environment as a critical causal factor; and we also emphasize the promotion of empowerment of individuals and groups, as well as social justice and social change. I recognize that life is not easy for many people and many people struggle to survive. Our society aspires to offer equal opportunities to all; however, the gap between rich and poor is becoming wider every day and a lot of people who used to be in the “middle” are now struggling. It is misguided to try to blame vulnerable groups of people for what is happening. It is also foolish to believe that there are easy solutions to these problems. Ultimately, we have each other and people in our communities that we need to care for. The healing process requires mutual acceptance and political correctness.

No Aloha: The Criminalization of the Homeless in Hawaiʻi

Written by Jeanette Purvis, & Kristen Gleason

Hawai‘i is often known as the Aloha state. In Hawaiian culture, Aloha is a complex concept that includes a spirit of goodwill and kindness towards others. Recent developments with regards to state policies towards the homeless, however, have left many wondering why there is no Aloha for the state’s most vulnerable and marginalized people. While there has been a 2.3% decrease in the number of homeless individuals in the U.S. between 2013-2014, over this same period of time, Hawaiʻi’s homeless population increased by nearly 12% (Henry, Cortes, Shivji, Buck, Khadduri, & Culhane, 2014).

Locally, many blame the Hawaiian homeless crisis on individuals arriving from the mainland. However, according to Yuan, Vo, and Gleason (2014) only 6% of homeless individuals in Hawaiʻi report that they have moved to the state in the fiscal year of 2014. In reality, homelessness in Hawaiʻi disproportionally affects the local Native Hawaiian population, as well as a growing number of Compact of Free Agreement (COFA) Nationals, which include those from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, or Palau. According to a 2015 point-in-time survey, 76% of homeless families currently living in unsheltered conditions in Hawaiʻi identified as Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander (C. Peraro Consulting, 2015).

One of the major contributing problems is that rent prices in Hawaiʻi are simply not affordable for much of the local population. A recent report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (2015) found that Hawaiʻi has the most expensive rental housing in the nation. The report estimates that an individual living in Hawaiʻi would need to make in excess of $31 an hour—or work 163 hours a week at minimum wage—in order to afford the fair market rent for a 2-bedroom apartment. Priced out of the rental market and having access to only 17 emergency shelters (spread across 5 islands), many of these individuals and families are forced to attempt to find shelter on the streets. This has contributed to the fact that the number of unsheltered homeless individuals in the state has grown by a staggering 19.9% within the last year alone (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2015) and has caused a number of semi-permanent homeless encampments to develop where unsheltered individuals and families have attempted to create some stability and community.

The increasing rates of homelessness in the state have, of course, resulted in an increase in the visibility of homeless individuals and families in public spaces and an accompanying increase in concern among the citizens of Hawaiʻi. According to Google Trends, “homelessness” has been searched more per-day in Hawai’i than in any other state in America for the past six years (2016, August 28). This widespread public concern has no doubt put significant pressure on the local government to address the issue. In response, the state and local governments have recently passed and aggressively enforced ordinances that are intended to limit the visibility of the homeless problem.

These ordinances effectively criminalize homeless behaviors such as sleeping in parks, sitting on sidewalks, or storing private property in a public place. Three bills were passed in the fall of 2014, which imposed fines of up to $1,000 or 30 days in jail for sitting on sidewalks or relieving oneself in public. These bills were followed by a number of highly publicized “street sweeps,” planned days for city workers to forcibly removed the tents and other property from many of the city’s homeless encampments. The citations typically associated with these bills ultimately end up in the hands of those with little to no resources for payment. As a result, homeless individuals end up in misdemeanor court. This places a massive burden on the local judicial systems and generates an institutional cost that greatly exceeds the amount of the original fine (Boruchowitz, Brink, & Dimino, 2009).            

One of the main justifications for the sit-lie bans and street sweeps in Hawai‘i centers on a strategy of “compassionate disruption” (“Paradise lost; Homelessness in Hawaii,” 2014). This philosophy, championed by the Mayor of Honolulu, Kirk Caldwell, argues that the sweeps will help to move homeless individuals and families off the streets and into shelters. In other words, it is intended to “disrupt” and prevent this population from becoming acclimated to unsheltered living. Over the years, these sweeps have caused hundreds of homeless individuals to relocate either to new encampments or into already over-crowded emergency shelters.

One recent sweep—considered one of the largest ever conducted in the nation—was an attempt to remove an encampment of nearly 300 individuals from an area in Honolulu known as Kaka‘ako (Associated Press, 2015). While initial reports suggested about one-third of these individuals moved into neighboring emergency shelters (Office of Governor David Ige, 2015), it is unknown if these individuals will go on to obtain regular, permanent housing as a direct result of this sweep. In fact, in a recent study from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Dunson-Strane and Soakai (2015) interviewed heads of households living in three of the major urban encampments in Honolulu and found that only 11% of the participants reported being more able or likely to seek shelter after a sweep; whereas, 21% reported being less able or likely, and 68% thought the sweeps had no impact on their shelter seeking. In addition to the fact that there is little empirical evidence that these sweeps facilitate transitions into regular housing, there is a growing body of evidence demonstrating their negative impacts on the financial and emotional wellbeing of homeless populations. These government-issued sweeps often result in jail time, financial burden from fines, loss of property, and emotional distress for the homeless individuals targeted (Boruchowitz et al., 2009; Dunson-Strane & Soakai, 2015).

These effects are clearly evident in preliminary findings from another study by Gleason (2016) that has found that street sweeps are destabilizing and reshaping social interactions among different homeless populations. For example, one service provider who targets runaway youth discussed the new challenges their team has faced in trying to locate runaway teens. Before the sit-lie bans and street sweeps, most unsheltered youth used to be concentrated in the Waikīkī area of Honolulu, where they had relative safety (being a tourist area, it is not a “rough” neighborhood). In Waikīkī, they were close to the youth drop-in center and were easily located and served by outreach workers. Now workers have a much harder time finding these youths. Additionally, several participants mentioned concerns about the trauma caused by the sweeps, the barriers put up when clients lose their documents, and the growing number of fines and legal problems they are now seeing among their clients. According to one participant:

What they’re not seeing is that you’re forcing a population to go to places where they cannot be successful, and thereby pushing them away from shelters and pushing them into different communities, and, you know, having those communities affected by it. And you’re driving this population from being, you know, poor human beings that just need a little bit of help, into “you ravage animals, you need to be locked up.”

Most of the interview participants in the homeless service system study (Gleason, 2016) cited the same huge barrier to addressing homelessness in the islands: a dire need for more affordable housing. Many service providers reported difficulty in helping clients get housed, even after those clients had participated in 2-year long transitional housing programs or had received housing vouchers to help with their rental costs. Several participants discussed the fact that there are simply not enough units in an affordable price range, even after incomes are supplemented with a federal housing subsidy. This results in a bottleneck at the housing end of homeless services and limits the number of people who can be housed. Indeed, Quigley, Raphael, and Smolensky (2001) have found that even small changes, such as “moderate” decreases in rental costs and increases in the number of affordable housing units, could result in substantial decreases in the homeless population in a given area.

Rather than dehumanizing and criminalizing the visible poor in our cities, public policies would be much more effective in reducing the problem of homelessness if they focused more consistently and more seriously on creating policies that address the need for more affordable housing. As it stands, it seems clear that Honolulu’s sit-lie bans and street sweeps are doing little more than making business owners and politicians feel like they are addressing the issue. However, in the process of easing political concerns, these policies are forcing the city’s homeless population into ever more concentrated areas, further and further from service centers and viable job markets and causing significant anxiety, loss of property, and stress for an already marginalized population. Additional efforts by Community Psychologists and service providers are needed to pressure local governments to increase subsidies for affordable housing. Additionally, social scientists must work together to empirically demonstrate the harmful and counter-productive effects of policies that lead to the criminalization of the homeless. The first step to showing “Aloha” will be to make sure all citizens of Hawai‘i have a safe place to call home.


Associated Press. (2015, October 8). Homeless camp swept in Hawaii one of nation’s largest. CBS News. Retrieved from

Boruchowitz, R. C., Brink, M. N., & Dimino, M. (2009). Minor crimes, massive waste: The terrible toll of America's broken misdemeanor courts. National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Retrieved from

C. Peraro Consulting, LLC (2015, April). City and County of Honolulu Point-in-time count 2015. Retrieved from

Dunson-Strane, T., & Soakai, S. (2015). The effects of city sweeps and sit-lie policies on Honolulu’s houseless (pp. 1–51). Honolulu, HI: Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Univeristy of Hawai’i at Manoa. Retrieved from

Gleason, K. (2016). Exploring a typology of homelessness in Hawai'i using a mixed methods approach. Manuscript in preparation.

Google Trends (2016, August 28). "Homelessness." Retrieved from

Henry, M., Cortes, A., Shivji, A., Buck, K., Khadduri, K., & Culhane, D. P. (2014). The 2014 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress: Part 1 Point In Time Counts.

National Low Income Housing Coalition (2015). Out of Reach 2015: Low wages and high rents lock renters out. Retrieved from

National Alliance to End Homelessness (2015). The state of homelessness in America, 2015. Retrieved from 2015_ FINAL_online.pdf

Office of the Governor David Ige (2015). Governor's coordinator on homelessness announces progress in helping individuals find shelter [press release]. Retrieved from

Paradise lost; Homelessness in Hawaii (2014, December 20). The Economist, 413(8918), 40.

Quigley, J. M., Raphael, S., & Smolensky, E. (2001). Homeless in America, homeless in California. Review of Economics and Statistics, 83(1), 37–51.

The State of Hawaii, Department of Human Services, Homeless Programs Office (2014). Statewide Homeless Point-in-Time Count, 2014: Methodology and Results. Honolulu, HI. Retrieved from:

Yuan, S., Vo, H., & Gleason, K. (2014). Homeless service utilization report.: Hawaii 2014. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i, Center on the Family