The number of homeless living on Oahu streets jumped 12 percent in the past year while the overall number, including those living in shelters, dropped by 4 percent.
That’s according to preliminary data from January’s annual nationwide homeless census called the Point in Time Count.
The number of “unsheltered homeless” increased to 2,401 in January from 2,145 a year earlier.
Meanwhile Oahu’s “sheltered homeless population” dropped to 1,910 this year from 2,350 in 2018.
When added together, there were 4,311 people living on the street or in shelters. That’s 184 fewer than last year’s count.
“I consider it very good news that that the Point in Time Count shows a significant decrease on the island of Oahu,” said Mayor Kirk Caldwell. “Overall, this is good news. I was holding my breath. … It gives me reasons to continue our compassionate disruption.”
Caldwell said he worries that the number of “unsheltered homeless is growing. … It’s something I see every day. If you go into shelter, you get a better chance of getting into permanent supportive housing.”
In a statement, Gov. David Ige said: “We have refocused our contracts for homeless services to emphasize permanent housing. As a result, over 4,400 homeless individuals on Oahu transitioned to permanent housing last year.”
It’s the second year in a row the overall homeless population declined.
Sam Millington, executive director of Partners in Care, which organized this year’s Point in Time Count for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, emphasized the numbers “are not exact numbers and they’re not intended to be exact numbers.”
“It’s only a snapshot to give us a general idea of any changes year to year,” Millington said. “They should not be considered absolute numbers in any way shape and form.”
More data, including numbers for specific regions of Oahu, are expected to be released in April, he said.
Millington said the annual Point in Time Count numbers fulfill a mandate by HUD and are not aimed at state or local officials.
“We do this for HUD,” he said. “We don’t do this for the city, we don’t do this for the governor.”
Brandee Menino of Bridging the Gap, which organized this year’s neighbor island Point in Time Counts, said she does not expect to release neighbor island data until April.
Federal officials later this year are then expected to release total homeless counts for the entire country.
Despite two consecutive statewide declines of more than 9 percent starting in 2017, Hawaii currently has the highest per capita rate of homelessness in the country.
In January 2018, 6,530 homeless people were counted across the islands — compared with 7,220 who were counted in 2017.
This year’s Point in Time Count was conducted over four nights simultaneously across all islands from Jan. 22-25.
This year the city and state suspended homeless sweeps before — and during — Oahu’s Point in Time Count to try to prevent homeless people from scattering before they could be counted.
More than 700 volunteers turned out across Oahu to conduct the count. The volunteers asked homeless people to answer a 22-question survey, aided in planning and coordination of the count and later entered all of the data that was collected.
Perhaps just as importantly, Millington said, volunteers distributed over 8,000 hygiene kits as part of a much broader outreach that could get some people off the street.
“That sense of kokua really shows how Hawaii can be at its best,” Millington said.
One of the issues that arose this year was the length of the questionnaire.
Millington said, “We had so many questions that we know we missed some homeless people who got tired of waiting (to be surveyed) and turned away.”
POINT IN TIME COUNT
Oahu’s homeless population in January:
>> Sheltered homeless: 1,910 people, down 19 percent from previous year
>> Unsheltered homeless: 2,401, up 12 percent
>> Total: 4,311, down 4 percent
Source: Partners in Care