The first night of the annual Point in Time Count, a nationwide homeless census that will determine whether Hawaii continues to lead the country with the highest per capita rate of homelessness, began Tuesday night.
The count will be conducted across all islands through Friday. Hawaii’s numbers are typically announced in the spring or summer. Federal officials later rank each state’s numbers.
Despite back-to-back statewide decreases of more than 9 percent in the past two years across all islands, veteran volunteer counters and professionals from the nonprofit organization ALEA Bridge weren’t sure what the numbers would show for the area from the North Shore through Wahiawa to Mililani.
ALEA Bridge workers are seeing new faces in the area, especially children, said Phil Acosta, executive director of ALEA Bridge, which organized this year’s Point in Time Count for that part of Oahu.
Last year 281 homeless people were counted in the area.
“There seem to be more people,” said Chris Voss, who, along with his wife, Karla, had volunteered to count homeless people for their third year. “They say some are from the Big Island because of the volcano.”
In January 2018, 6,530 homeless people were counted across the state — compared with 7,220 in January 2017.
Tuesday night in Wahiawa, the Vosses were among 58 volunteers who showed up at the Avocado Street chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the first night of the Point in Time Count and were given fluorescent pink T-shirts that read, “Point in Time Count/Because Everyone Counts.”
The experience counting homeless people off of Kamehameha Highway around Wahiawa’s Lake Wilson was eye-opening for first-time volunteer Crystal Shimabukuro, a state Department of Health public health nurse.
In their first encounter, Shimabukuro’s group met a couple with a boy — who appeared to be around age 10 — who were living on the banks of the lake.
The group was led by Rose Coleman, a community health worker at ALEA Bridge who knows the homeless trio and is trying to help the woman leave a domestic-violence situation.
The man immediately began walking up the embankment while yelling and swearing at Coleman, who calmly directed the volunteers to walk away.
“It’s good to see the barriers, the challenges, firsthand,” Shimabukuro said.
Acosta said more volunteers will try to get the homeless trio to fill out the 22-question survey by Friday.
But because they’re known by name, they will be counted in the Point in Time Count even if they don’t fill out the survey, Acosta said.
Not all encounters were unpleasant.
“Most of them are very nice,” said Debra Zedalis of Mililani, who had volunteered for the third time in a row to count homeless people in Wahiawa. “Tonight we’re seeing more women.”
Many of the homeless people who were counted Tuesday night have been living around Lake Wilson and Wahiawa’s Karsten Thot Bridge for years. One such person was Clarence English, 59, who lives in an encampment below Kamehameha Highway with his dog.
“Out of sight, out of mind,” English said to explain why he set up camp on the shore of Lake Wilson.
Asked whether Tuesday night’s encounter with Point in Time Count volunteers might encourage him to get off the street, English replied, “That would be great!”
Later, Acosta said ALEA Bridge outreach workers had offered English housing multiple times, with no luck.
Dorothy Isaveau, 36, did not say how many years she’s been on the street — “long time, actually” — and was vague in answering the key question of where she slept the night before: “I have a tent,” she said, gesturing toward Lake Wilson.
Isaveau also gave contradicting answers when asked whether she’s seeing more — or fewer — homeless people in Wahiawa lately.
First she said Wahiawa’s homeless population is “growing”; then she said, “It would be down — way down, actually.”
Whatever this week’s Point in Time Count reveals about Hawaii’s homeless population, Karla Voss considered it a privilege to meet — and count — homeless for the third year in a row.
“It’s actually selfish,” Voss said. “You get so much more than you give.”