Social service workers, government workers and community volunteers fanned out across the islands Monday night for the first night of a census that will measure whether Hawaii is making progress in its efforts to reduce the country’s highest per capita rate of homelessness.
Cathy Kawano-Ching of Kaneohe volunteered for the first time to interview homeless people in Kaneohe and Kailua for the annual, nationwide homeless census called the Point in Time Count and instantly met three homeless people around Kaneohe Community Park who all listed “depression” as one of their issues.
Kawano-Ching also was surprised at the adaptability of the first three women her group encountered around the park.
The statewide Point-in-Time Count of Hawaii’s homeless population continues this week and will run through Friday night on Oahu. The information will then be collected, and the results of Hawaii’s latest census are expected to be announced in late March. In December, federal officials announced the results of the 2017 nationwide Point-in-Time Count, which continues to rank Hawaii with the highest per capita rate of homelessness.
Volunteer training to count Oahu’s homeless will be held tonight at 6:30 p.m. in Hauula. For more information, visit partnersincareoahu.org.
“They’re very resourceful,” Kawano-Ching said.
On the other end of the two-page, 20-question survey, Lorrie Rapoza, 50, said she’s been living on the street for 10 years and is attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings and hoping to get into permanent housing.
She wants people to know “they’re always putting us down,” Rapoza said. “But I’m cleaning up my act.”
Out of a group of four homeless people who were eating and talking together, only Rapoza and Daylin Rombawa, 30, agreed to be interviewed by the Point in Time Count volunteers.
Rombawa said he’s been on the street “off and on for five years” and quickly sped through a list of his observations on life and on the world.
“I think the community is more concerned about progression than regression,” Rombawa said about island homelessness. “But sometimes the situation is better for your self-esteem, better for your motivation.”
While several mainland communities only report the number of homeless people encountered on a single night, Oahu’s Point in Time Count will be conducted every night through Friday. Different parts of the neighbor islands will run their counts on different days this week.
Honolulu organizers originally hoped to attract 500 people to conduct the Oahu survey and had 410 volunteers by Monday night.
“I’m happy with that number,” said Jen Stasch, director of Partners in Care, which is organizing this year’s count.
‘A little insight’
Had the federal shutdown continued, Stasch said that about 40 federal employees with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development would not have been able to show up, as planned, tonight.
More than 550 volunteers last year conducted the Point in Time Count on Oahu, the only island that saw its homeless population increase — by 19 people — for a total homeless population of 4,959 people.
Statewide the overall homeless count fell 8.8 percent — the first decrease in eight years — for a total homeless population of 7,220 people.
Volunteer KC Connor of Hauula was impressed by last year’s turnout of volunteers but still contends there are more homeless people on the Windward side who have yet to be counted.
“I know people by name we never got to last year,” Connor said.
The Windward volunteers included retired ‘Anuenue School Principal Charles “Kale” Naumu, who volunteered for the first time last year and returned again Monday night.
“There are a lot of people trying to help the homeless,” Naumu said. “But how to solve homelessness is the big question.”
Carol Zink of Kailua came out for the first time Monday night because “I wanted to get a little insight,” adding, “The average person, including me, has no idea what it’s like to be homeless. Having a roof over your head is so important. Not having a roof over your head is tragic.”
One of the groups of Windward volunteers was led by Institute for Human Services outreach workers Samantha Leutu and Castro Masaniai, a standout football player from Waipahu who got arrested in 2011 and suspended from his Oregon State football team for an incident involving his girlfriend.
Masaniai has been working for IHS for almost four years and said he enjoys his job trying to help Oahu’s homeless.
“I love giving back to the community,” Masaniai said. “I love helping out.”