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Lieutenant governor candidate Green plays valid role in homeless center

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Josh Green

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A homeless person pushes a cart on North Hotel Street in Chinatown.

As pressure mounts in the race to be Hawaii’s next lieutenant governor, Democratic primary contenders have set their sights on the front-runner’s claims that he started a homeless center and raised millions for a new model of health care for the homeless.

State Sen. Josh Green, who is also an emergency room doctor, has said he wants to “take ownership” of homelessness and opioid addiction if he wins the state’s second-highest seat, and has pointed to the Joint Outreach Center in Chinatown as evidence of his style as a “person of action.”

“When I saw the homeless crisis continue to surge and I knew through my committee work and as a doctor that we had … about 13,000 of our individuals in our state homeless and chronically suffering with drug addiction and mental illness, I knew I had to take action,” said Green during a June campaign forum in Hilo hosted by Na Leo TV. “I didn’t just wait for legislation. … I went and opened a homeless health clinic in Chinatown.”

But as he’s surged ahead in the polls, his opponents have ratcheted up their skepticism. Green has also said that he raised $13 million for homeless services and that the center is saving the state $500,000 a month in health care costs.

“You mentioned that you started a clinic in downtown to address the homeless,” said Kim Coco Iwamoto during a lieutenant governor candidates’ forum hosted this month by the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association. “I tried to reach out to some of the different nonprofit organizations that have been funding and organizing that, and I was told that you were a volunteer physician that came in for a couple of hours, not necessarily the one to create this clinic. But I’ve been on panels with you, and you gave the community the impression that that was your idea.”

Former state Sen. Will Espero has also repeatedly pressed Green to support his claims that he has raised $13 million to help the homeless — pushing him to reveal the donors and where the money is.

While Green has been remiss in some of his statements for not mentioning the work of his partners in creating and helping raise money for the Chinatown clinic, interviews with those involved revealed Green indeed played a central role.

Scott Miscovich, a doctor who operates urgent and palliative care services in the Kaneohe area, has been Green’s main partner in the effort to provide homeless services. He told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the city approached him about potentially providing health care services in Iwilei about a year and a half ago. City officials have been working to convert a building in the area into a center that offers showers and laundry facilities, housing, social services and medical care for the homeless.

Miscovich contacted Green, and the two began developing a comprehensive model of care in anticipation of bidding on the city’s request for proposals. As part of that effort, they created a nonprofit called the Hawaii Homeless Healthcare Hui, also known as H4.

Miscovich said he and Green studied different models of providing care to homeless in cities throughout the country. They spent a week in Seattle visiting homeless shelters and clinics, and Green visited New York. They partnered with executives from The Queen’s Medical Center and the Hawaii Medical Service Association, the state’s largest health insurance company.

The Iwilei homeless center project has faced delays, but in the meantime the Honolulu Police Department approached H4 about providing health care services for homeless at a space in Chinatown. They accepted, and the Joint Outreach Center on North Hotel Street has been operating since April.

The goal is to have the Iwilei location eventually serve as the primary service location and open satellite locations, such as the one in Chinatown, throughout the state. Miscovich said a site in Kailua should open soon.

Miscovich said work on the homeless model began months before the lieutenant governor’s race got underway. While Miscovich focused on technical and medical components of the project, he said Green focused on funding and working through any political roadblocks.

“I think this is not a political issue, was never a political issue and really shouldn’t be a political issue,” he said in response to the center becoming fodder in the lieutenant governor’s race.

Andy Mounthongdy, who is on loan from The Queen’s Medical Center and acting as H4’s executive director, estimated that H4 had raised roughly $18 million in committed cash and in-kind donations, much of which is in anticipation of the Iwilei location opening.

“The organization really would not have existed without Dr. Josh Green and Dr. Scott Miscovich,” said Mounthongdy. He said Green was a main driver in securing funding, including an $8 million commitment from HMSA.

The center is open 1 to 8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday and has primarily provided medical services to homeless who walk in off the street. The services, which are free to anyone who doesn’t have health insurance, help divert homeless from showing up in emergency rooms. An outpatient ER visit can easily amount to $1,000 in health care costs, compared with the $100 to $200 it can cost to see a doctor at the center, said Mounthongdy.

Green acknowledged that he hasn’t spent much time providing medical services at the clinic given the lieutenant governor’s race, and said the work has involved multiple partners.

“I always have maintained that I founded it with this group of exceptional people,” he said.

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