Hawaii had the highest per capita rate of homelessness in the nation in 2015, but new data show there was an overall statewide decrease in January in the number of people living on the streets — with only Oahu experiencing an increase of 19 more homeless people than last year.
THOSE WITHOUT SHELTER
Region | 2017 Count | 2016 Count | % Change
Downtown | 639 | 603 | +6
East Honolulu | 309 | 435 | -29
Ewa | 231 | 202 | +14.4
Kaneohe to Waimanalo | 253 | 189 | +33.9
Wahiawa to North Shore | 385 | 221 | +74.2
Upper Windward | 149 | 67 | +122.4
Waianae Coast | 358 | 456 | -21.5
TOTAL: 2,324 | 2,173 | +6.9
Source: 2017 Hawaii Statewide Point In Time Count
According to data released Wednesday, there was a statewide 9 percent drop in homelessness during the annual January Point in Time homeless count. Overall the number of homeless people across all islands dropped by 701 — from 7,921 in 2016 to 7,220 during the Point in Time Count, which is conducted nationwide over several days.
Hawaii’s overall numbers represented the first decrease since 2009, said Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator.
“We are turning the tide,” Morishige told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “We are making a difference.”
The data underscore ongoing efforts by Gov. David Ige and Mayor Kirk Caldwell, who have embraced mainland approaches to dealing with the state’s homeless crisis, including a housing philosophy that runs counter to years of practice requiring people who need assistance to get clean and sober or meet other conditions to qualify for a place to live.
The state and city have created a number of Housing First programs, offering housing as the priority for the homeless while also providing social service help in dealing with problems ranging from substance abuse to mental illness.
“Change is possible, progress is possible,” said Brandee Menino, chairwoman of Bridging The Gap, which coordinated the neighbor islands Point in Time Count.
The results of Oahu’s Point in Time Count showed that the number of homeless on the island grew from 4,940 in 2016 to 4,959 in January.
But Morishige said he believes Oahu actually mirrored the rest of the islands and likely also saw a decrease.
Oahu’s 0.4 percent uptick was likely the result of more than 500 volunteers who did a better job of counting the homeless this year, Morishige said.
In the past, with fewer volunteers, “We just weren’t counting them accurately,” Morishige said. “We actually probably had a decrease on Oahu, too.”
The communities on Oahu that saw the largest increases in their homeless populations — by percent — were reported in the areas from Upper Windward Oahu (up 122.4 percent) and Wahiawa to the North Shore (up 74.2 percent).
During previous Point in Time Counts, those communities, in particular, “told us we just weren’t counting accurately,” Morishige said.
Other data from Oahu showed more hard work remains, especially efforts to house military veterans.
Across the state, the number of homeless veterans dropped 8 percent — from 670 in 2016 to 615 in January.
But Oahu saw a 9 percent increase in homeless veterans — from 413 to 449.
The two organizations that coordinated this year’s Point in Time Count — Partners in Care on Oahu and Bridging The Gap — released the latest numbers at the city’s newest Housing First project, newly renamed for its Makiki address: “1506 Pi‘ikoi,” at the corner of Hassinger Street.
The first residents — a couple and four children — are scheduled to move in Monday, said Gaye Johnston, vice president of Housing Solutions, which manages the project for the city. By the end of next week, five to seven families are expected to move in, she said.
In a statement, Caldwell said, “The 2017 Point in Time Count confirms that our Housing First and affordable housing programs coupled with our compassionate disruption efforts are making a difference, but we need to continue working to address homelessness in Central and Windward O‘ahu and among our veterans.”
Sweeps of homeless encampments and new city laws cracking down on where the homeless can congregate have increased along with the number of housing programs.
Caldwell thanked the “many Oahu residents who have opened their hearts to welcome formerly homeless individuals and families into their neighborhoods. Together we are making a real difference in people’s lives.”
By county, Hawaii island saw its homeless population fall 32 percent, representing 441 fewer homeless people. Maui County had a 22 percent drop, or 249 people. Kauai saw a 7 percent drop, or 30 people.
In a statement, Ige commended “the many partners who have gotten out of their silos, come to the table and rolled up their sleeves. Together, we are finding more efficient ways to move people off the streets and into homes. This report is proof that our collective efforts are working.”
But Ige said more needs to be done to increase affordable housing and reduce homelessness.
Federal officials did not rank states’ homeless data per capita last year, and Morishige was unsure whether they would rank states this year once all of the data come in from around the country.
The results of the Point in Time Count will be welcomed today at Catholic Charities, where eight nonprofit groups from Oahu, Maui and Hawaii island will gather with the Hawaii Community Foundation, which three years ago started bringing the groups together every six weeks.
The effort was intended to break the old models of addressing homelessness and, instead, focus on getting homeless people housed first in order to deal with their problems, said Christine van Bergeijk, vice president of strategies, initiatives and networks for the Hawaii Community Foundation.
The groups are especially focused on quickly moving homeless families out of shelters and into permanent housing — efforts that van Bergeijk said were reflected in Hawaii’s overall 19 percent reduction in homeless families.
Neighbor island social service agencies, in particular, deserve credit for helping to find permanent homes for homeless families, van Bergeijk said.
“With a 14 percent reduction of homeless families on Oahu and a 19 percent reduction overall across the state,” she said, “that means some neighbor islands really hit the ball out of the park.”
So today at Catholic Charities, van Bergeijk said, “We’re going to take a few minutes to celebrate. They don’t often get a good pat on the back. And they really deserve it.”
Morishige said the overall 9 percent reduction in island homelessness is the result of increased coordination and cooperation between the state and city, nonprofit groups and many others — especially social service outreach workers who go out all hours of the day to try to help the homeless get off the street.
“A lot of times the public doesn’t see the hard work they do,” Morishige said. “They’re dealing with individuals who have layers of multiple issues and are in crisis situations. … We have service providers who are extremely dedicated.”
2017 Hawaii Statewide Homeless PIT Count by Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Scribd