Some 747 homeless military veterans on Oahu have found housing since January 2015, but the pipeline refills at a rate of 24 new homeless veterans each month.
That leaves 221 homeless veterans on Oahu currently in need of housing, said Nate French, an improvement adviser for the New York-based nonprofit group Community Solutions, who is in town this week working with social service agencies and state and county officials to reduce the highest per capita rate of homelessness in America.
Out of the 221 current homeless veterans, 68 have been homeless a year or more, meaning they fit one of the definitions of being “chronically” homeless.
“They’re a priority,” French said.
Oahu’s homeless veterans have access to federal housing vouchers to cover their rent, but getting more veterans off the streets relies on finding more landlords to take a chance on them, he said.
“You’ve got 221 vets that need to be housed,” French said during a break Wednesday at a two-day conference organized by Catholic Charities Hawaii. “They’ve got all the subsidies they need. They just need to find the units. How do we find rental units more quickly?”
French, who is based in Los Angeles and works with other cities, said Honolulu is making impressive strides in reducing island homelessness.
The 221 known homeless veterans represent a 33 percent drop from the start of the year, when 330 veterans were homeless on Oahu, French said.
“It’s been decreasing and seems to have leveled out,” he said.
At the end of 2015, Honolulu did not meet the nationwide “Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness” because of the number of homeless veterans still in need of long-term housing 90 days after being identified.
Since then, more veterans have become homeless but French said he’s impressed with the progress he sees when he returns to Oahu every four months.
“There’s so many good things happening here,” French said. “It’s a really promising picture for Honolulu.”
Catholic Charities brought together representatives from the federal, state and county governments along with social service providers and outreach workers — a gathering that French does not see in some other cities he works with.
“That’s a dream come true in our kind of work, to have all of these people in the same room, sitting at the same table,” French said.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell has said that last year’s Mayors Challenge helped spur the city’s effort to reduce homelessness across the board, not just for veterans.
Much of the talk at the Catholic Charities conference focused around “How do we keep this going?” said Jun Yang, executive director of the city’s Office of Housing. “We’re talking about how to sustain this forever, not just because of the mayors’ initiative.”
Even though the one-year Mayors Challenge ended, Yang said the goal remains to get every homeless veteran identified and into long-term housing within 90 days.
“I haven’t stopped working on this,” Yang said.
Currently, French said, it takes an average of 235 days between the time a homeless veteran is identified on Oahu and ends up in long-term housing.