Under a new program announced Wednesday by Gov. David Ige, homeless people who commit minor crimes could receive social services instead of going to jail.
The state has awarded a $200,000 contract to the the CHOW Project and Life Foundation to launch a pilot program called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, which will allow police to contact a social worker for those who commit minor offenses.
An announcement from the governor’s office described LEAD as “Hawaii’s first pre-arrest or pre-booking diversion program.” It will focus on the homeless in Downtown Honolulu and Chinatown.
Police Lt. Mike Lambert, who is watch commander for the Chinatown district, said police are still developing the list of LEAD-qualifying offenses, but they will not consider crimes such as theft, which have victims.
The plan is to use LEAD for low-level drug offenses and prostitution. Law enforcement agencies including Honolulu police and the Department of Public Safety will refer people who commit victimless crimes to the CHOW Project, which will work with a coalition of 30 social service providers to offer housing, substance abuse treatment and other services.
Heather Lusk, executive director of the CHOW Project, said LEAD will ensure service providers respond to law enforcement referrals within 30 minutes.
Lusk said LEAD was pioneered in Seattle, where it has been running for six years. People who participated in the program there had 58 percent less recidivism as compared with homeless people who had not participated.
Of those involved in Seattle’s LEAD program, 82 percent were homeless prior to participation and 40 percent found housing as a result of the program, according to data provided by the governor’s office.