Hawaii outperformed most West Coast states and the nation overall — percentage-wise — in getting homeless veterans off the street this year, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
While the nation saw an overall 5.4 percent decrease in homeless veterans, Hawaii’s homeless veteran population dropped 13.5 percent compared with last year, according to HUD data released Thursday.
Honolulu, which has the majority of the state’s homeless population, saw a 9.4 percent reduction, meaning the number of Honolulu’s homeless veterans fell from 449 in January 2017 to 407 at the end of January.
The progress follows a pledge Mayor Kirk Caldwell made four years ago to then-first lady Michelle Obama to end homelessness for military veterans. Caldwell was one of hundreds of mayors across the country to make the Mayors Pledge to End Veterans Homelessness.
“We continue that commitment,” Caldwell told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Thursday. “We commit to house every homeless veteran. It’s our patriotic duty. We owe it to those who put their lives on the line for us who come back damaged. … For the remainder of our administration, we’re going to remain focused on getting every homeless veteran a home. These numbers are reaffirming.”
Outside of Honolulu the number of homeless veterans also decreased — to 125 from 166, according to HUD data.
Overall, Hawaii counted 7,220 homeless people in January, with 4,959 of them in Honolulu.
Jimmy Stracner, HUD’s regional administrator who oversees Hawaii, said the islands “have a very passionate core group of individuals making this work. Everybody works really well together. I would say it’s one of the best networked communities that I have in my region,” which includes California, Arizona, Nevada, Guam, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Like other communities, Hawaii’s efforts to house homeless veterans relies on HUD housing vouchers, which guarantee rental payments to landlords willing to take in a homeless vet. Homeless veterans generally pay one-third of their rental costs, often through public assistance they receive.
Unlike typical rental agreements, landlords have access to veterans’ caseworkers, who deal with problems and work on issues such as substance abuse and mental health.
The city recently tried to find rental units for 20 homeless veterans and instead got landlords to agree to open more than 30 units, said Marc Alexander, executive director of the city’s Office of Housing.
“People have stepped up,” Caldwell said. “We need to address the misconceptions. … But I think we’re doing much better than we were two or three years ago.”
At the same time, California’s homeless veteran population dropped 5.2 percent, Arizona’s fell 7.9 percent, Nevada saw a 13.1 percent decline and Washington state had a whopping 21.8 percent decrease. Oregon’s homeless veteran population increased 9 percent.
By contrast, Mississippi saw a 78.9 percent increase, followed by Alabama, which saw its veteran homeless numbers jump 26 percent.
BY THE NUMBERS
>> 13.5: Percent decrease in Hawaii’s homeless military veteran population
>> 9.4: Percent decrease in Honolulu’s homeless military veteran population
>> 5.4: Percent overall decline in homeless veterans across the country
>> 449 to 407: Number of Honolulu’s homeless veterans in January 2017 compared with January 2018
>> 7,220: Number of homeless people counted across Hawaii in January
>> 4,959: Number of homeless people counted in Honolulu in January