Dozens, if not hundreds, of volunteers are still needed for next week’s census of Oahu’s homeless population — but the head of the annual Point in Time Count isn’t concerned.
“The target is around 500 (volunteers), but we use that as a target,” said Jen Stasch, director of Partners In Care, which is organizing this year’s Oahu count. “I would say we’re probably at about the 300 to 350 mark right now. Although it may not seem like it’s a lot of people, most of the volunteers have done this before, so they have experience.”
The weeklong Point in Time Count is part of a nationwide effort, which has resulted in Hawaii’s ranking as the highest per capita rate of homelessness in the country.
To volunteer for next week’s Point in Time Count survey of Oahu’s homeless population, visit partnersincareoahu.org.
To volunteer to count homeless people in Waikiki, East Honolulu or Sandy Beach/Makapuu, visit ihshawaii.org/events/2018-annual-point-in-time-count
Oahu’s count is being conducted in geographic regions, where different social service agencies train and partner with volunteers to count homeless people in specific areas. For the area that covers Waikiki to Makapuu, the Institute for Human Services estimates that it needs 150 volunteers for the count that begins Monday night.
“We only have 52 volunteers signed up,” said IHS spokesman Kimo Carvalho. “Windward Oahu probably needs at least 50 (volunteers) for Waimanalo, Kailua and Kaneohe each. That’s the minimum. Right now they have 18 (volunteers) for all three areas.”
Natalie Nimmer, a 39-year-old educational consultant from Kaimuki, volunteered for the first time last year and plans to do it again next week.
“I saw the notice probably on Facebook from a friend who posted it,” Nimmer said. “I don’t personally feel that I, individually, can do anything to address the (homeless) challenge that’s facing our islands in a major way. But I did feel I could contribute to this effort to gather data to help people to make better decisions. And it’s important for federal resources.”
She joined volunteers and IHS workers who surveyed homeless people in the area from the Waikiki Shell to the Hilton Hawaiian Village and parts of Kapiolani Boulevard.
“It was definitely a good walk and definitely a good experience,” Nimmer said. “There were a lot more volunteers than we probably needed. But that large number probably made some of the volunteers feel comfortable.”
Nimmer estimates that she spoke to 10 homeless people while learning about some of the factors leading to homelessness, such as issues with homeless military veterans.
“For some people who have a limited understanding about the underlying factors of homelessness,” she said, “this is a good way to educate themselves. Your one effort here can make a big difference later on.”
The low sign-up of volunteers so far is reminiscent of the 2016 effort. “I’m not at all concerned about the validity of the count this year due to a shortage of volunteers,” Stasch said. “That was a big concern in 2016, before I was here, and we remedied that pretty well. … I’m really, really hoping that we lose the crown of highest per capita rate in the nation.”
The numbers help dictate federal funding for homeless initiatives in Hawaii while shaping local policies.
Last year’s count of 7,220 homeless people across the entire state represented the first decline in eight years — a decrease of 8.8 percent. Only Oahu showed an increase — of 19 people — that represented a rise of 0.4 percent.
“Last year we had a really good volunteer turnout, and an accurate count for areas like Wahiawa, the North Shore and Windward,” said Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator. “The goal this year is to have just as good a volunteer turnout as last year.”
IHS has organized volunteer training for tonight and Friday. But Carvalho said volunteers can show up next week for on-the-spot training and will be partnered with a trained IHS social service worker.
But people who feel squeamish about talking to homeless people — or who can’t spare a night next week — can volunteer in other ways, such as collecting surveys or inputting data, Morishige said.
Others can donate toiletries that volunteers and social service workers offer to homeless people as an ice breaker, Morishige said.