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Coordinated efforts helping homeless

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    Patricia Kona, middle, who is homeless, lit a cigarette while being interviewed by volunteers Jim Quimby and Jean Adair-Leland during the 2017 Point in Time homeless count in Waikiki.

Questions have been raised about the 2017 Point in Time Count for the East Oahu Region that includes Waikiki (“Numbers of homeless questioned,” Star-Advertiser, May 16; “Homeless count but a tool toward more coordination,” Our View, May 17). As Partners in Care (PIC) Director Jen Stasch noted: “2017 was the first year PIC had a centralized volunteer recruitment and training system as well as a standardized data collection and entry protocol … all of these factors led to the most reliable count we’ve had.”

The Institute for Human Services (IHS) has been involved in the current Waikiki effort and would like to offer some insights to the improved numbers, and encourage further collaborative efforts going forward to help the homeless in Waikiki.

This year’s homeless count conducted by more than 200 community volunteers was led by IHS and was preceded by more than two years of assertive outreach to the homeless population in Waikiki. This was by invitation of the Waikiki Improvement Association and the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association and in partnership with the city, hotel security, Waikiki police officers, businesses, residents, neighborhood board and civic groups.

Together with these other stakeholders, IHS launched a multifaceted response in November 2014 that included 2-1/2 years of frequent outreach, shuttle service to IHS shelters and an inaugural airline relocation program that addressed the large group of transient homeless individuals who found themselves stranded in Waikiki.

Over that period, IHS received more than 750 community referrals from Waikiki stakeholders; outreach served 839 individuals in Waikiki; shuttle services averaged 14 passengers per day, affording clients access to shelter, meals, employment, health care and social services; the relocation program helped another 340 individuals find housing on the mainland; and 488 individuals transitioned into shelter and housing with support from the city’s Housing First program, Clean and Sober Transitions, the Hale Mauliola Sand Island Shelter, and other housing options such as Rapid Rehousing, and mental health group homes.

These collaborative community efforts contributed to the significant reduction in the homeless population in Waikiki today, as reflected in the dramatic reduction in the regional count for 2017. Point in Time Count volunteers, Waikiki business partners, city and state government officials, and community stakeholders have achieved a significant milestone. They deserve our gratitude for their tireless work and contributions to the progress that’s been made.

To continue these efforts, the state of Hawaii awarded four new homeless outreach contracts this year across Oahu to agencies dedicated to a collaborative, housing-focused outreach approach. For East Oahu, the combination of Kalihi-Palama Health Center, CHOW Project and IHS showed a track record of housing people quickly and offered a concerted strategy to help chronic homeless individuals with substance abuse addictions and mental illnesses in both urban Honolulu and East Oahu.

There is still a lot more work to be done. With new tools, programs and partners coming online, we look forward to building on the foundation laid working collaboratively alongside the Waikiki community to continue to move more people off the streets, into housing and on track to more self-sufficient lives.

At the same time, we continue to advocate for solutions to system causes of homelessness preventing more people from falling in. With everyone working and pulling together, further reductions in homelessness for this region is possible and can be achieved. Mahalo to the Waikiki community and to our leaders for giving IHS that opportunity to work alongside you.

Connie Mitchell is executive director of the The Institute for Human Services Inc.; Sharon Crofts is board president of IHS.

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