It took repeated efforts, 10 to 12 social workers, the city, state and four social service agencies to finally get Jodi Jennette Inks to abandon her encampment on the slopes of Diamond Head and give up a life of homelessness.
Inks, 46, moved into a temporary room in the city’s Pauahi Hale housing project in Chinatown on Wednesday and became the first of 30 chronically homeless people who now have city housing vouchers that will cover 70 percent of their rent and — most importantly — give them a shot at changing their lives and staying off the street.
They’re all beneficiaries of the city’s Housing First effort, now in its third year, to get homeless people into market-rate rental units and provide help for problems that could include substance abuse and mental illness.
Around the country, much of the homeless-related efforts in 2016 focused on finding homes for military veterans. And much of the sympathy toward the more than 300 people who flooded into the Kakaako homeless encampment in 2015 went toward homeless children and their parents who had jobs but no permanent place to live.
But the public hasn’t shown the same kind of sympathy or empathy for chronically homeless people such as Inks, who is also a recovering “ice” addict who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression.
Inks was cloudy on the details of her homeless past and estimated that she had been on the streets for at least a decade. She was homeless while she was pregnant, and Inks’ 8-year-old daughter now lives in Sacramento, Calif.
Over the years, Inks said, she could often be found in some corner of Kapiolani Park or Ala Moana Park listening to voices in her head — and shouting back at them “at the top of my lungs.”
Mentally ill, substance-abusing, chronically homeless people often represent the unwelcome face of Hawaii’s homeless.
And despite all of the combined government and social service agency help, Inks’ experience shows that leaving the streets usually comes down to one person deciding to make a change.
“You get tired of living that lifestyle,” Inks said.
She had tried to get off the streets before.
But it was only after the back-to-back deaths of her father and stepmother last month that she was finally ready to accept the help she had been offered on a nearly weekly basis while camping out on the makai side of Diamond Head.
This time she’s vowing to succeed and hopes to eventually regain custody of her daughter.
“I don’t want to lose this opportunity again,” Inks said last week, surrounded by state and city officials and social service workers. “I got lost for a while. It’s time to start taking care of myself.”
Inks was then escorted to Helping Hands Hawaii’s warehouse in Iwilei, where she picked out a hand-me-down pair of boots and donated furniture that Helping Hands workers trucked to her temporary room at Pauahi Hale.
Jay Parasco, the city’s homeless initiatives coordinator, said 29 other chronically homeless people are lined up right behind Inks with rental vouchers provided by the city while the state administers a federal grant that covers their social service assistance.
One of them has been homeless in Kailua for 30 years. Another has been living on the streets of Chinatown and Waikiki for more than 20 years.
Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator, said “it takes a total team effort” in some cases to get Honolulu’s hard-core homeless off the street.
The various government officials, social workers and nonprofit agencies working with Inks — which include Catholic Charities Hawaii, U.S. Vets, Helping Hands Hawaii and Kalihi-Palama Health Center — represent “truly a systemwide approach,” Morishige said. “That’s what it takes because some of these people have been unsheltered a very, very long time.”
Inks is the first of the 30 to get temporary housing in Pauahi Hale while it undergoes renovations.
“It’s a way to quickly house these clients who have been waiting sometimes for years using resources that would otherwise be vacant,” Parasco said.
Nine more chronically homeless people are expected to follow Inks into Pauahi Hale, Parasco said.
The other 20 who also have housing vouchers will have to be accommodated elsewhere, he said.
They could move temporarily into empty city housing like Inks or possibly directly into a market-rate apartment, Parasco said.