A roomful of social service workers and others trying to end isle homelessness heard a pep talk Friday — a day after a federal report showed that homelessness increased in Hawaii while much of the country saw declines.
“By the numbers you have some work to do,” said Jennifer Leimaile Ho, the Washington, D.C.-based senior adviser on housing and services for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and niece of the late entertainer Don Ho.
But Ho quickly pointed out the 44 percent drop in homeless veterans on Oahu between January and August.
“It will fill you with pride and confidence that doing something so big, so patriotic and so amazing is actually possible,” Ho said at the start of Friday’s Statewide Homeless Awareness Conference at the Kroc Center in Ewa Beach.
“Don’t be afraid to think big. … When formerly homeless people have a home, it makes us all better,” she said.
Ho, who authored the first federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness, said everyone across the country focused on homelessness is waiting to see who President-elect Donald Trump appoints as HUD secretary.
But she expressed doubt that the Trump administration will want to roll back the Obama administration’s progress on homelessness, especially veterans’ homelessness.
“The bar has been set so high and the data is so good that any administration would be foolish not — to steal a Hawaiian metaphor — to ride the wave. Why would you want to be the administration that went backward on veterans’ homelessness?”
Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator, held up Friday’s front page of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and pointed out the headline that read, “Hawaii homelessness rises by 4%,” and said, “We know … we’re making progress.”
But, Morishige added, “Sometimes it doesn’t always feel that way because the work we do is very challenging and very difficult. Ending homelessness is not an easy thing, and all of you know that.”
He told the story of a boyhood friend who, like Mori-shige, had also lost his father at a young age. He saw the friend years later when he ran past Morishige downtown, and he had apparently become homeless by that time.
Then about two weeks later Morishige read in the newspaper that his friend had been found dead in Honolulu Harbor following an assault.
“I remind myself that the work we do is just not an abstract thing. … This is an issue that impacts our friends and neighbors in the community, real people that we know. … I could have found myself in that same situation,” Morishige said.
“We are making progress,” he said. “We just need to remind ourselves to continue that progress and not to falter.”