comscore Low-income families living in Honolulu homeless encampment
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Low-income families living in Honolulu homeless encampment

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  • as well as individuals

More than 40 percent of the people in a homeless encampment in Honolulu’s Kakaako district are families, according to a new survey released by Gov. David Ige on Monday.

The study was conducted in early August and found that about 300 people are living in tents and makeshift structures in Kakaako, and the vast majority said they would be willing to go to shelters.

But many face barriers to obtaining secure housing, including more than a third of the population who said they don’t have identification documents such as birth certificates.

The data gathered by service providers is intended to help the governor’s homelessness team outline the next steps for making a dent in Hawaii’s growing homelessness problem.

"We do know there is virtually zero shelter space for families today," Ige said. "We’ve gone and we’ve contacted all of the providers, and essentially all of the families’ spaces are taken up … so that’s why looking for properties and sites that can accommodate families, or that we can renovate to accommodate families, is a priority."

At the Next Step shelter in Kakaako, families can wait for a month or two before space opens up in that shelter, said Jason Espero of Waikiki Health, one of the organizations that conducted the study.

Coming up with the cash to pay shelter fees can also be a challenge. The average income level for families living in the encampment is just $587 per month, and individuals are bringing in an average of around $320 a month, the survey found.

"This is really not enough money to be able to sustain somebody in a household in Hawaii at this time, so that’s part of the reason for their homeless situation," said Greg Payton, chairman of Partners in Care, a coalition of nonprofit organizations that work to end homelessness.

The majority of the income is from government assistance programs, Espero said, while income earned by many residents comes from jobs. "Some of those who are working are cash under the table, or just very underemployed, working less than 20 hours a week, so that’s why their monthly income is so low," he said.

The Hawaii Community Development Authority has offered up a storage shed in Kakaako that could be converted into a family shelter to house 40 people, but the site needs environmental testing before renovations could begin, Ige said.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell said a site on Sand Island that could house about 85 people is on track to be completed before Christmas, although that site would not initially allow children.

The majority of residents of the encampment are Native Hawaiian and Polynesian, Espero said. About a third are from Pacific island nations that are part of the Compact of Free Association, which allows citizens from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau to live and work freely in the United States in exchange for allowing the U.S. military to control strategic land and water areas in the region, the survey found.

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