Updated date:

Waianae Ghetto: Is It Safe on the West Side of Oahu, Hawaii?

Jeannie used to live in Hawaii but now resides in Las Vegas.

Tent City in Paradise

Tent City in Paradise

Waianae—Is It Dangerous?

On the westernmost part of Oahu on the Leeward side is the Waianae Coast. It stretches 20 miles from the town of Nanakuli to Makaha. At the end of the island is Makua Beach.

The Waianae Coast is about 30 miles from Honolulu. When driving H-1 west to Waianae and exiting onto Farrington Highway, the only road in and out of Waianae, it takes you around the beautiful side of the island past the Ihilani Resort & Spa in Ko Olina and breath-taking million dollar homes.

After Ko Olina, the road winds through Nanakuli, Maile, Waianae, and finally Makaha. In Makaha, there is the Makaha Resort & Golf Club. A chartered bus also carries tourists to Waianae to experience the beauty of dolphins and sea turtles playing.

The Waianae Coast offers a beautiful panorama of sights along with its own share of troubles. Road construction is always in progress, temporary road repairs last for months, and the asphalt roadway is repaired with steel plates that damage car tires and suspension. Since there is only one road in and one road out, cars have no option but to drive over the steel plates. Old buses with bad suspension, bus drivers with bad attitudes, courtesy of TheBus (transit system) service the Waianae Coast area.

Driving down the Farrington Highway through Waianae’s small towns, the view of million-dollar homes next to rundown shacks, overgrown weeds, rusted out broken down cars and trucks, and on any given day, discarded furniture or waste sitting on the side of the street detracts from the beauty and simple charm of Waianae. Along the beautiful stretches of beach scenery are rows and rows of dilapidated tents with homeless families and their pets living on the beach, and at the end of the road past the town of Makaha is a full-blown “tent city” with families of homeless living a day-to-day existence.



The Dark Side of Waianae's Beach Paradise

Drug Abuse and Addiction

Similar to a mainland urban ghetto, the small Waianae towns are peppered with convenience stores, liquor stores, and fast food establishments. Drugs are closely interwoven into this landscape, with methamphetamines (“ice”) and marijuana being the preferred choice of self-destruction. “Waianae Chronics” is the moniker for the people trapped in this endless downward spiral. One of the locals explained that the drug is everything to a chronic, and for it, they forget their families, their children, and they steal to support the habit. She said, “It’s all about the high.”

Meth addiction is a serious blight on the Waianae Coast. The Hawaii Meth Project, a statewide program aimed at reducing first-time meth use through public service messages, public policy, and community outreach, is working hard to combat the use of meth among youth. They do not offer treatment for addicts but emphasize the importance of shaping public policy and the perception of crystal methamphetamine. In time perhaps their message may reach enough addicts to make a difference.


In an article written by Carol Forsloff (realviews.com), she writes: ”There’s a saying that if you drive to Waianae, Hawaii don't drive too slow or someone will steal your tires. Well, that's no joke these days…” What a sad commentary on Waianae, a beautiful scenic area where a vast majority of locals have a beautiful and giving “aloha” spirit.

However, self-destruction is not a joking matter either. No one should joke about the impact of illicit drugs on a community. Drugs destroy families and lives. They create an environment where homelessness, helplessness, hopelessness, and despair define the community.

Whether it is a mainland ghetto community or a tropical paradise island, when a community loses the basic ethical and moral fiber of its existence, society suffers the loss. Inevitably it is the poor and disenfranchised that lose the most. They suffer economic hardships; unemployment, substandard housing, homelessness, and inferior education.

Hardship Caused By Economic Turmoil

Almost always, drug addiction among people in lower-income communities is a direct reflection of the people’s hopelessness, despair, and their daily battle against economic predators. The rationale offered, although flawed, is that drugs are the escape route from problems. In fact, drugs are the fast track to dependency, addiction, and more problems that further erode economic prosperity.

Waianae Is Still Beautiful

The Waianae Coast is a beautiful scenic tropical setting, gorgeous beaches, bountiful farms and gardens, fruitful country living: roosters, pigs, chickens, dogs, horses, cats, weekend yard sales, beach camping, family restaurants, local color and style, and locals with loving hearts and aloha spirit, but the dark side of Waianae overshadows the gracious charm of the community.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.


Jill on August 11, 2020:

Some is true such as peppered with corner stores, homeless, and meth..but this perspective is explained through the eyes of a tourist. As a life-long sober "hard working poor" resident of Wai'anae, there are less of the ugly spewed and more beauty than said in this article.

kalani on April 13, 2020:

you are very disrespectful to us hawaiian and waianae has the best views ever.

Maka on February 02, 2020:

Homeless people in the middle of a major tourist zone .In Mexico the police would clear them out or else but in America everyone has rights .

Hawai’i on July 02, 2019:

Hawai’i is a great place to live although it can be expensive we have many homeless due to the mainland. Just because we look like a paradise that doesn’t mean you send more and more down. It may help them survive the cold but , you have to think of the many kapuna , and keiki that live here as well. But as 808 mentioned it is disrespectful to post someone tent and saying this is a great place no you don’t criticize our island. But if mainland would stop sending down we would have less homeless. Mahalo

808 on September 14, 2018:

To speak of a beautiful place and post pictures of tents that people live in for the world to see is not respectful. In Waiane, this is one place in Hawaii that will take you in even with all the problems that you may come with. We do not discriminate. We have mainland homeless people that their governments pay one way ticket to come to Hawaii because it is the best place for them to servive from the cold and we take them all. Waianae is beautiful and so are the people in it but I can assure you that if you come with bad intention. you will remember and stereotype Waiane as the worse place in paradise. I can honestly tell you that Waianae is Paradise because we make it so.

E Jeannie Sanders (author) from Las Vegas, Nevada on February 16, 2014:

Some of the people are homeless. I lived in Makaha for three years and I met houseless and homeless.

E Jeannie Sanders (author) from Las Vegas, Nevada on February 16, 2014:

I agree. I lived in Makaha for three years.

anon on October 03, 2013:

The people along Farrington Hwy are not homeless, they are houseless. For the most part, they are working poor people who have been robbed of paradise by greedy white men, and cannot afford the price of real estate. Much like the American Indian, they pay the price for a few people becoming millionaires. Why do most find this so hard to see? Maybe because they are white too. But ask one and he will say he is a Christian.

Kevin on August 07, 2013:

I live in Makaha yes there are homeless people here but its no different than any other place. Leeward side is the best place to be on Oahu.

linda pine on April 09, 2012:

im from utah and i was reading your article and i feel really sad for these people but at least they wont get to suffer in the wintertime... and we also to have the same problem here with homelessness in our community...

bobo fuller on April 09, 2012:

im from hawaii &&& ive been homeless almost all my life and yess everything you have said is true and i thank you for telling the world that not only in hawaii is it beautiful it also has its negative points ...

forever777 on February 20, 2012:

If its not the meth who is to blame? Hawaii may have these horrific tent situations however the government is not doing as they were promised. Why is hawaiians the only humans who can survive off of land way before captain cook came they lived happy. They once had freedom. Hawaiians was as smart as anyone else. however you have mirconisians that were deported from micronisia because of government issues and military using there land without proper consent and bombing there island up so therefore they reside here in Hawai'i but why is it that they have a home, a roof over there head, even if they are getting help from the government. Why the people of Hawai'i who is Hawaiian isn't. That's a shame. That is no way to treat the hawaiians. Therefore the land was never a u.s property to claim. Hawaiians was here first and it was stolen from them. Queen was trap in her own room in her own palace. Held captive by military in order for her to sign the tredy. Again who is all to blame... There circumstances will never get better. Even if they get help from the state they still have housing, shelter homes costing almost there whole welfare check. Hawaiians gave up on themselves and on the U.s they perfer to be a native not a u.s citizen. Why must they claim to be something there not. It almost seems to be that they are not wanted on there own Island there own place of birth, there aina....

Abel007 on February 13, 2012:

Like it has been said "all it takes is one bad apple!" and there may be a few loose ones rolling around. I would know because I was one of them. Before anyone should judge the people of Waianae, they should take a good look in the mirror and ask themselves "what makes them better than us?" Nothing!! All I can say is that people change(some quickly and some slowly). If I ever had a chance to change it, I wouldn't! I am now a strong minded and independent women, who once was very passive and dependent on other to help me make my choices in life. Now I have to choices: I can either be another to judge my fellow local people or be apart of the solution and help as I was helped.

unknown on March 03, 2011:

Very useful. I almost bid on a short sale. I am in CA. If it's too good to be true...

It is a shame, to have a tent city that is not a Happy situation. We have the same situation with Meth.

To visit HI and to live, maybe a fantasy of a better environment from here.

Hopefully, I am wrong....

Elayne from Rocky Mountains on August 25, 2010:

This makes me sad. At least they will not suffer the cold. I pray their circumstances will get better somehow.

Related Articles