A House committee on Tuesday shelved a proposal to fly homeless people back to the mainland, representing the fourth consecutive year the idea has died in the state Legislature.
Between October 2014 and November 2015, the Institute for Human Services teamed up with the Waikiki tourism industry to fly 133 homeless people back to their homes on the mainland at a cost of $28,374, IHS spokesman Kimo Carvalho told the House Human Services Committee.
“I’d say that’s a pretty good return on investment,” Carvalho said. Flying homeless people with mainland roots back home also frees up shelter space for local homeless people, he said. Hawaii has the highest per capita rate of homelessness in the nation.
Before leaving the islands, the homeless client first works with social workers to develop a plan to be successful on the mainland. The client must have someone back home to house them, and cannot have pending legal or military issues in Hawaii, Carvalho said.
“To date, no reported individual (sent to the mainland) has returned,” Carvalho told lawmakers. “The demand for this program is statewide — on every island.”
No specific dollar amount was requested to create the so-called “Return-To-Home” pilot program, which would have been funded by the state and run by the Department of Human Services.
DHS opposed creating the pilot program, as did the state’s homeless coordinator, Scott Morishige.
Morishige told the committee that IHS and Waikiki tourism officials have shown they can run an effective program through private funding.
State money, Morishige said, would be better focused on programs that are proven to reduce homelessness, such as Housing First — which places homeless people in rental units while providing them with programs and social workers; and so-called “rapid re-housing” that provides one-time rental assistance to people and families who need financial assistance to get into a home.
In written testimony, Morishige told the committee that “an unintended consequence of this measure may be that other homeless individuals will perceive this program as an invitation to come to Hawaii and receive homeless services here with an expectation that they will receive a ‘free’ return trip.” Also, he said, “Because this service is currently available through the private sector, the establishment of a new government-sponsored program may result in duplication of effort and inefficiencies in program implementation.”
Following the committee hearing, Carvalho told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that he was frustrated that state officials won’t spend money to send more homeless people back to the mainland.
“This is a housing solution that works,” Carvalho said. “It tells me that despite all our efforts to shine a light on these problems, it’s not being taken seriously and it’s business as usual.”