Programs that keep people from falling into homelessness and provide access to permanent housing top this year’s legislative priority list compiled by Partners in Care, a collaboration among 35 nonprofits, advocates and government agencies seeking to end homelessness on Oahu.
Partners in Care officials discussed their 2017 legislative priorities at a news conference Monday afternoon at Kakaako Gateway Park, which was once the site of a homeless encampment. State Rep. Tom Brower, the House of Representatives’ new housing committee chairman, was attacked June 29, 2015, while photographing homeless people living there.
While Partners in Care existed prior to Brower’s beating, the crime highlighted the need for a more galvanized effort to address what happens when there aren’t enough homes and individuals live in places that are not meant for habitation.
“Just over a year ago, this park looked very different. There were about 300 homeless people living in tents,” said Scott Morishige, the state’s chief coordinator of homeless initiatives. “We’ve pushed for better policies and made tremendous progress. We want to keep our eye on the target no matter where they are — in Kakaako or some other area.”
Greg Payton, executive director of Mental Health Kokua and Partners in Care advocacy committee chairman, said Oahu’s latest approach focuses on meeting three main housing needs, including:
>> Permanent supportive housing, which provides ongoing case management or rent subsidies.
>> Rapid rehousing programs that require shorter-term case management and rental subsidies.
>> Mainstream needs, which don’t require case management and often can be as simple as one-time payments for first month’s rent/deposit.
“It’s not that much different from last year, but we’re asking for sustainable services and rental subsidies,” Payton said.
Chronically homeless, veterans, unaccompanied youth and families take precedence, said Jen Stasch, Partners in Care director. “It’s really about making sure that there is a consistent and repetitive effort,” Stasch said.
Morishige said the effort by all Partners and Care members, including the city, removed 290 homeless individuals from Kakaako by 2016’s end. It assisted about 5,000 Oahu residents, keeping some from becoming homeless and moving others into shelters and permanent housing, he said. There also was a 25 percent reduction in evictions last year, Morishige added.
Even with those results, the 2016 point-in-time count of homeless individuals rose nearly 1 percent to 4,940 on Oahu.
Morishige said the state’s proposed 2017 housing budget is increased slightly from last year’s $150 million, which would move the state toward its goal of increasing housing production by 10,000 units by 202o. About $2.5 million would go to rapid rehousing, and $7 million would fund rental subsidies.
The state wants to raise its budget for homeless services to $20.9 million, a more than 74 percent increase from last year’s $12 million allocation, Morishige said. While it’s too soon to forecast the impact on homelessness if the Affordable Care Act were repealed, Morishige said, the state is working on expanding Medicaid waivers.