The shelter park responsive strategy used by the County of Kauaʻi during the pandemic to keep the houseless safe was effective. There were no significant outbreaks in the parks and no deaths from COVID-19. During the year or more that the houseless population spent in the shelter parks, the residents developed social capital and a sense of community. The houseless population in the parks was reticent and was negatively impacted when the parks were demobilized. The houseless were forced to separate and return to living in encampments in bushes around the island. The county of Kauaʻi and the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources began regular sweeps of these encampments as the houseless are not allowed to stay on government land. There is no designated place for the houseless to stay on the island. 

Houselessness is a wicked problem and is rife with complexities on Kauaʻi. The complexities challenge the county’s ability to address the houseless population’s needs effectively. The houseless population is increasingly vulnerable based on dispersion, diminishment of social networks, decreased connection to providers, and greater mental and physical health destabilization. Developing and fostering resilience in this population is within emergency management’s purview. To best meet the needs identified in this study and to navigate the complex system in which they are exacerbated, solutions will ideally come from a layered complement of federal-level and private-sector partnerships empowered under a national strategy led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. These solutions must focus on developing key elements of resilience within a houseless community structure that provides varying levels of transition, wraparound services, focused attention to health and well-being, development of life skills, and solidification of social and information networks, all framed within an operational mantra of dignity, respect, and trust. 


Carol L. Cwiak

Carol L. Cwiak, J.D., Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Emergency Management and Disaster Science at North Dakota State University (NDSU). She teaches preparedness, career and professional development, mitigation, business continuity, and crisis management and coordinates internships. Carol has been active in her engagement at NDSU and the emergency management community, including leadership and service on numerous emergency management boards, committees, projects, initiatives, focus groups, the National Emergency Management Executive Academy, and NDSU’s Veteran Alliance Organization. Most recently, she has focused her efforts on two areas. First is developing the Code of Ethics and Professional Standards of Conduct for Emergency Management Professionals – an effort focused on advancing professionalization in the field. Second is the role of emergency management in addressing the root causes of vulnerability created and exacerbated in complex systems (with a focus on working toward resilience).

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No. 1 Kaua’i’s Pandemic Response and Recovery: Addressing the Wicked Problem of Houselessness in a Sustainable Manner