Seven Oahu nonprofit groups that lost their federal funding this year to serve an estimated 300 of the island’s most vulnerable formerly homeless people got a temporary reprieve this week from Gov. David Ige.
The groups will divvy up $611,160 in state funds to keep operating through Valentine’s Day, according to a closed-door announcement by Ige that resulted in high-fives and hugs among nonprofit representatives assembled inside Ige’s Capitol office.
“It was quite dramatic,” said Patti Isaacs, executive director of Waianae’s Ho‘omau ke Ola, which blends Western treatment with ancient Hawaiian cultural practices to treat homeless drug addicts. “This is the first time that government is thinking outside the box. Normally they would say, ‘Too bad.’ Gov. Ige walks the walk. I was really impressed.”
Across the country this year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development began cutting off funding for programs that provide temporary, transitional housing for the homeless. Instead, HUD officials previously told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that they are now emphasizing funding for so-called “permanent, supportive housing” for the homeless.
The change in spending priorities sent Ho‘omau ke Ola scrambling to try to plug the $172,000 HUD money gap. Ho‘omau ke Ola’s first fundraising effort, a car wash, raised $700.
Through one of Ige’s homeless emergency proclamations, the governor’s administration funneled $5 million of state money to Aloha United Way primarily to provide one-time, temporary funds to keep at-risk families in their homes — or to provide homeless people with rental or utility deposits.
An opinion from the state attorney general’s office cleared the way for Ige to use $611,160 of the $5 million to help the nonprofits, said Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator. An eighth group, the Salvation Army, declined the offer because it already had found another funding source, Morishige said.
“These organizations serve a total of about 300 clients,” Morishige said. “These are people who are very vulnerable and would be at immediate risk of falling into homelessness. We want to keep them connected to services and prevent them from adding to the homeless in the state.”
Ige’s private meeting with the nonprofit groups Monday came as welcomed relief.
“It’s great. Great, great news,” said Leo Solivan, 58, a crystal meth addict who has full-blown AIDS and lives in Gregory House Programs on Young Street. “It’ll be a lot of help for our people.”
Gregory House Programs houses and treats 20 formerly homeless people with HIV/AIDS who often are struggling with addiction. Gregory House Programs took the biggest hit of the eight groups when it lost its $335,489 worth of annual HUD funding in April.
For Gregory House Programs clients, the loss of federal money generated “an uneasy feeling” about an uncertain future, Solivan said.
The news of the HUD cuts sent Solivan into a spiral of depression that caused him to use crystal meth again for the first time in 15 months.
“I felt kind of lost and scared,” Solivan said. “I lost a lot of weight because of depression. A lot of things were going on in my head, and bad decisions were made.”
Now solivan hopes that Ige’s announcement of the so-called “bridge funding” will help him quit crystal meth again.
“A bunch of us relapsed,” Solivan said. “Something positive helps. It really helps a lot. Hopefully, this will get my life back together and get me back on track.”
The temporary state money is purposely timed to run out on Feb. 14, when a new round of state funds will be disbursed by the state Department of Human Services, Morishige said.
Three of the organizations that lost their HUD funding already receive DHS money, and Ige’s administration plans to work with some of the groups to apply for the upcoming round of DHS funds, Morishige said.
For now the one-time, temporary allocation of $611,160 will be used “to provide assistance to those in need in the community as quickly as possible,” Morishige said. “This is something we’re doing for the first time. We’re truly in a crisis situation, and we need to respond quickly.”
When told how grateful the nonprofits were to hear Ige’s news, Morishige — a social worker by training — recognized the warm feelings in the room that followed the governor’s announcement.
“We wanted to acknowledge the providers for their work,” Morishige said. “These are the people on the front lines.”