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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 on Oahu

Tent city on Oahu

Is Waianae 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, and 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.

View of the ocean

View of the ocean

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 self-destructive choice. “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, and 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 (, 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 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, with 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.