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Groups hope to grow success of joint effort to aid homeless

Dan Nakaso
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In this Sept. 15, 2016 photo, a former gardening shed was converted into a shelter in Honolulu. It was divided into partitions with orange trim designed to evoke ohia blossoms.

In 2014, long before the state mandated similar changes, the Hawaii Community Foundation got Hawaii’s biggest homeless shelters to overhaul their approach and share information with competing agencies to get families out of shelters faster and into permanent housing.

Now, 2-1/2 years and hundreds of successes later, the Hawaii Community Foundation wants the eight nonprofit groups that made up its inaugural HousingASAP program to continue on their own following a “graduation” Thursday at the foundation’s headquarters in downtown Honolulu.

“We have pretty much reached the end of this phase,” said Christine van Bergeijk, the Hawaii Community Foundation’s vice president of strategies, initiatives and networks. “But we’re clearly not calling it the end.”

On Nov. 7, 8 and 9, the groups will host an invitation-only conference of 80 homeless service providers in Hilo called the “Hawaii Leadership Academy” to share best practices developed over the last three years. The Hawaii Community Foundation is providing $150,000 for the conference.

“It’s called the ‘Hawaii Leadership Academy,’ but we’re calling it HousingASAP 2.0,” said Brandee Menino, CEO of Hilo-based HOPE Services Hawaii Inc., one of the original eight members that made up HousingASAP, along with the Family Life Center on Maui and U.S. Vets, the Institute for Human Services, Catholic Charities Hawaii, Family Promise of Hawai‘i, Waikiki Health and Kahumana Community/ASI on Oahu. Collectively the eight organizations account for over half of the state’s shelter beds.

Narrowing focus

HousingASAP helped move 714 families from homelessness into permanent housing in 2-1/2 years, according to the Hawaii Community Foundation. Perhaps just as important, the eight groups that comprised HousingASAP needed 51 fewer days on average to place homeless families into permanent housing compared with the year before — a decrease of 38 percent.

The idea behind Housing­ASAP was born out of a sense that Hawaii’s homeless shelters lacked both hard data and a focus to quickly move families out of homeless shelters.

“We were trying to solve everything in that person’s life: health issues, education issues, income issues, legal issues,” Menino said. “We had to retrain our front-line staff to look at what needed to be done to get them (clients) into housing, which meant getting them document-ready (with government-issued identification) or getting them benefits or work. The focus narrowed to having a conversation about what it’s going to take to get them into housing and keep them there.”

Organizations such as Hope Services Hawaii began hiring “housing locators” with real estate backgrounds instead of traditional social service workers and helped organize landlord summits to convince landlords and property managers to take a chance on renting to a homeless family.

Building trust

In 2014 the Hawaii Community Foundation knew that federal officials were turning to the so-called Housing First model, which emphasizes getting people into permanent housing, where they can then get help for issues like mental health problems and substance abuse.

The homeless encampment in Kakaako was still half a year from exploding with more than 300 people, including dozens of homeless children and their parents. And the state had yet to issue new contract rules that went into effect in January 2016 that emphasized moving out clients faster and into permanent housing.

“In 2014 we wanted to do something about family homelessness,” van Bergeijk said. “It was our first significant foray into aggregating funders around one common, complicated social problem. But these complex social problems cannot be solved by one foundation or one nonprofit. We need coordinated responses.”

So the Hawaii Community Foundation worked with 13 funders to provide $4 million to the eight HousingASAP organizations over the next 2-1/2 years.

But getting nonprofit organizations that compete for the same grants and contracts to work together — and share information — presented the first of several obstacles.

“They all had to make this big cultural shift in their organizations, and that was a challenge,” van Bergeijk said. “They would compete with each other for dollars, so they had to learn to work together and build trust.”

Shifting success

Teryce Pattioay, 34, thanks HousingASAP for helping her and her nine kids get out of IHS and eventually into a three-bedroom, one-bath house in Nanakuli last month.

The program covered her rental deposit and $2,200 first month’s rent, and Pattioay now has a job working at McDonald’s.

While in a shelter with her kids, “I cried every day,” Pattioay said. “It’s not something I would ever want anyone to go through. I really didn’t want my kids to experience that. I was pregnant with triplets and had to be on my feet 24/7 because you have to take care of your kids and you have to watch everyone else around you.”

Now Pattioay hopes her children — ages 1 to 15 — will do much better in a home of their own.

“It’s very important,” Pattioay said. “Very, very important.”

In the January Point in Time Count homeless census, the biggest reductions in the number of homeless families were seen on Maui (46 percent) and Hawaii island (45 percent) compared with the year before. Oahu had an 11 percent decrease and Kauai saw a 3 percent drop in the same period.

Some of the talk at the November conference in Hilo will focus on how to translate the kind of numbers from Maui and Hawaii island to Oahu, which has the state’s biggest homeless population but a shortage of affordable housing.

For Maui and Hawaii island shelter operators, “these folks found the secret serum to lean on each other and solve the problem,” said Micah Kane, the Hawaii Community Foundation’s president and CEO.

He added, “Our dream is to show that Hawaii can be an example in solving difficult problems and share the (solutions) around the world.”

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