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Homelessness programs cited for inefficiency

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These are some homeless makeshift shelters that are nearby on King Street.

A report by city Auditor Edwin Young gives the city’s initiatives to fight homelessness a lukewarm grade and slams Mayor Kirk Caldwell and his administration for lacking benchmarks and mismanaging programs aimed at sheltering people.

The 75-page audit submitted to the City Council on Tuesday also pointed to “a disconnect between the homelessness priority for city leaders and the resources allocated” to the Department of Community Services, which oversees housing programs.

The report focuses on the contracts for three housing-related programs begun in recent years by the city. All three are managed by the Institute for Human Services, a nonprofit homeless services and shelter provider.

The audit highlighted three points:

>> The Housing First initiative and Community Assistance Program both exceeded the number of people they had expected to serve, but the Hale Mauliola transitional facility at Sand Island fell short of its goal. The report also questioned the sustainability of the programs from a financial perspective because their funding comes from the city general fund. Officials from both IHS and the city objected strongly to the auditor’s conclusions about Hale Mauliola and called them inaccurate.

>> The Homeless Initiatives Group, the Community Services arm tasked with managing more than $14 million in homeless program dollars, is staffed primarily with contractual hires and “lacks policies and procedures, adequate resources, training or an effective back office” to provide needed administrative support. Insufficient safeguards therefore have placed homeless programs and funding at risk.

>> Lack of coordination between the city and state, coupled with the absence of a comprehensive plan with measurable performance benchmarks, has resulted in duplicate programs. “Opportunities to leverage or pool resources, or build on others’ efforts, are lost,” the report said. Inexplicably, the city’s Housing First initiatives cost 48 percent more than those of the state.

The administration submitted five pages in response to the draft report but focused on the positive in comments to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Tuesday night.

City Managing Director Roy Amemiya, in an email, said the administration is pleased that Young’s office recognized the progress made under Caldwell’s leadership.

“Given the limited staff available, we are proud of the many accomplishments,” Amemiya said. “Mostly, however, we are grateful that hundreds of formerly homeless individuals are no longer living in public spaces and receiving the support services they need.”

Amemiya said the city’s “compassionate disruption” initiative spurred by enforcement of the stored property and sidewalk nuisance ordinances “is having a positive impact on communities across Oahu.”

The audit lauded the city’s investment of more than $7.5 million in general fund dollars to support the three programs but questioned whether that can continue using general funds.

Meanwhile, inadequate staffing and other resources has led to ineffective management of the contracts, the report said.

“The lack of formal policies and procedures, which were echoed in prior audits and reports, place $142,152 in security deposits at risk for fraud, waste and abuse,” the audit said.

IHS Executive Director Connie Mitchell said the audit’s conclusions about Hale Mauliola misinterpreted the raw numbers and did not distinguish between those individuals actually served and those housed, Mitchell said in an emailed statement.

IHS exceeded its first-year goals, serving 224 people and successfully housing 96, she said, and did the same in its second year, serving 290 people and successfully housing 113.

Hale Mauliola’s 41 percent success rate over two years exceeds the average housing rate for emergency homeless shelter operators, Mitchell said.

Councilman Ernie Martin, a onetime housing official and a critic of Caldwell’s housing policies, said he was disappointed by the findings of the report.

“The Council and the administration had made homelessness a priority for the City and County of Honolulu,” he said. While there have been some successes like Housing First, he said he’s bothered by the lack of coordination between the city and state.

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