comscore Federal aid boosts care for homeless | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Hawaii News

Federal aid boosts care for homeless

  • DENNIS ODA / NOV. 11

    People living under a bridge in Wahiawa.

Hawaii’s chronically homeless people will benefit from more time in programs to help them with mental health or substance abuse issues.

The state was selected to participate in a special Medicaid program, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Friday.

Many chronically homeless people who have been without a home for a year or more have issues with mental health or substance abuse, said Judy Mohr Peterson, who runs Hawaii’s Medicaid program in the state Department of Human Services. There are programs available to help Medicaid-eligible clients with mental health and substance abuse, but those programs are generally available to people with the most severe, acute needs.

“It’s a narrow subset of the population,” she said.

Plus, the programs only last for a limited time.

“They’ll be doing well for six months, but then when those supports go away, those individuals kind of regress,” Peterson said.

The program, called the Medicaid Innovation Accelerator Program, will allow the state to help people continue participating in the Medicaid programs for a longer period of time.

It will expand services available to Medicaid-eligible clients who are homeless, and will give the state access to national experts to help implement programs like Housing First.

The need for mental health and substance abuse treatment for homeless individuals in Hawaii is acute, according to service providers.

“The whole mental health system got gutted a long time ago, and we have never seen those funds recommitted, so we kind of had to adapt and went into survival mode,” said Kimo Carvalho, spokesman for the Institute for Human Services.

There are currently about 7,500 people in specialized behavioral health plans offered through Medicaid, although they’re not all homeless, Peterson said.

While it may seem that an individual moving into a home would no longer need support and case workers, the change in lifestyle can be jarring, Carvalho said.

“Being placed into stable housing is as traumatic for many of our clients as being on the streets, because you are shaking up a whole new set of behavior,” Carvalho said.

Besides Hawaii, the federal government will be bringing the program to California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey, Nevada and Oregon.

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