A Canadian consultant who developed the industry standard homeless assessment tool said it was “rare” for him to see 110 state, city, social service, police and health care providers gathered together on Friday at the city’s Mission Memorial Auditorium.
Usually police officers and social service workers in other communities are working on different agendas to address homelessness, along with city and state officials who are not typically on the same page, said Iain De Jong, the president and CEO of OrgCode Consulting, who is on leave from a part-time faculty position at York University.
“I want to tip my hat to the Honolulu Police Department for wanting to work and stay engaged with service providers here,” De Jong said.
Marc Alexander, executive director of the city’s Office of Housing, said social service organizations working with an HPD team led by Capt. Mike Lambert tour island streets monthly seeking out chronically homeless people and trying to persuade them to move off the streets and into shelters.
De Jong travels 280 days a year throughout the mainland, Canada and Australia to consult on complex public issues such as homelessness.
Normally he sees police officers and social workers addressing homelessness from “two sides of a response,” he said. “They don’t communicate and refuse to cooperate.”
In 2011, De Jong developed the Vulnerability Index Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool — known to social service workers as the VI-SPDAT that helps them find the right help for specific homeless people. He’s been tracking how government officials, police and social workers have been addressing homelessness in the islands ever since.
In summer 2015, one of the nation’s largest homeless encampments swelled to more than 300 people in Kakaako.
Now, De Jong said, “There’s reason to celebrate. Years ago, I would have said there was frustration and defeat. Now success is possible.”
All of the major players concerned about homelessness across the islands are now embracing “the wave of best practices currently going on throughout the country,” De Jong said. “It’s yet another proof positive point that collaboration can lead to greater success in addressing complex problems like homelessness.”
The city’s Office of Housing spent $2,500 for De Jong to appear at the auditorium adjacent to Honolulu Hale. He was on Kauai last month and is scheduled to fly to Hilo and Kona and then onto Maui to speak to similar groups.
Like the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, De Jong said practices already underway need to be broadened to have a greater impact on island homelessness, which has seen overall 9 percent reductions in each of the past two years. Both the state and city have embraced approaches including Housing First and rapid re-housing.
At its most recent ranking in 2017, Hawaii still had the highest per capita rate of homelessness in the country.
But De Jong said the work going on will lead to more homeless people getting off the street.
“One should not underestimate the progress that has been made, and is being made,” De Jong said. “To John Q. Public, they don’t always see it every day. But the trajectory of what is possible in this community is really fantastic and should be celebrated.”