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Hawaii News

Honolulu holds line on homelessness while West Coast rates climb in 2017

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A Harbor Police vehicle drives by piles of trash and homeless belongings after a sweep by officials along Forrest Avenue in Kakaako. About 125 homeless individuals were uprooted again from a camp that had been established along Forrest Avenue outside of the Next Step Shelter.

Honolulu’s homeless population increased by 19 people in 2017 — or 0.4 percent over 2016 — while cities and counties in other high-priced housing markets from Seattle to Los Angeles saw their homeless numbers jump by much more.

The homeless population in King County, Wash., which includes Seattle, grew almost 9 percent, to 11,643 from 10,688 people. At the same time, Los Angeles, with 55,188 homeless, had a nearly 26 percent increase.

Marc Alexander, executive director of the city’s Office of Housing, said “we’re all frustrated” that more homeless people are not getting into permanent housing faster across Oahu.

“But unlike cities such as Las Vegas, L.A., Seattle and Portland, we’ve been able to hold the line in Honolulu,” Alexander said. “Seattle took its eye off the ball and didn’t address the underlying issue, which is affordable housing.”

For the state as a whole, the number of homeless declined in 2017 by 8.8 percent to 7,220.

“The numbers nationally actually increased for the first time in 10 years,” said Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator. “It’s important to point out that Hawaii is bucking that trend while other communities, such as Los Angeles, saw a nearly 26 percent increase, while Hawaii saw its first decrease in eight years. We’re really seeing the start of a different trend here in Hawaii compared to what the rest of the country is looking at.”

Honolulu and the rest of the islands’ counties “are not seeing the increases we’re seeing in other West Coast cities,” said Katy Miller, the Seattle-based regional coordinator for the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.

The homeless count is based on a nationwide census of homeless people, called the Point in Time Count.

The next Point in Time Count for Hawaii is scheduled to begin the night of Jan. 22. National homeless data is compiled by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Despite the drop this year, Hawaii continues to lead the nation with the highest per capita rate of homelessness.

One interesting result of the national homeless census is that it further crushes the myth that Hawaii’s problem is solely the result of warm weather.

“Everyone always says that people are attracted to our place because the weather is good,” Alexander said.

In fact, according to the federal housing department, the five states with the biggest improvements were all warm-weather states in the south: South Carolina (down 22.9 percent), Georgia (down 19.9 percent), Louisiana (down 19.4 percent), Tennessee (down 7.7 percent) and Florida (down 5.9 percent).

The 10 major cities and counties with the highest homeless numbers were led by New York with 76,501, according to the federal numbers, followed by Los Angeles city and county (55,188); Seattle/King County, Wash. (11,643); San Diego city and county (9,160); Washington, D.C. (7,473); San Jose/Santa Clara County, Calif. (7,394); San Francisco (6,858); Las Vegas/Clark County, Nev. (6,490); Boston (6,135); and Philadelphia (5,693).

Honolulu’s population of 4,959 homeless people led the housing department’s category of smaller cities and counties.

Honolulu was followed by nine smaller cities and counties that included seven other warm-weather communities in California and Florida. But the list also included Nassau and Suffolk counties in New York and Springfield, Mass.

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