Just a week after releasing early data on Oahu’s annual homeless census, the head of the organization that oversees the island’s annual Point in Time Count abruptly resigned, cryptically citing “undermining behaviors.”
Sam Millington, 58, started his first day as executive director of Partners in Care on Dec. 3 after coming out of retirement on Maui. He was Partners in Care’s second executive director in less than two years.
In a brief statement Monday to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Millington said, “Yes, I came from Maui and my sole attention was to try and address homelessness here on Oahu.”
He did not elaborate.
But in an email dated Thursday that was distributed to Partners in Care officials and other homeless organizations, Millington hinted at unspecified problems that began as soon as he came on board last year.
“I saw warning signs in December,” Millington began in his email. “Then a few more red flags in January. … February was decidedly worse. So I’m going to resign as Executive Director.”
After praising Connie Mitchell, Partners in Care’s board chairwoman, and Partners in Care staff, Millington then wrote, “All that said, there have been undermining behaviors, internal and especially external, which make it clear that serving as PIC’s Executive Director is no longer a viable option. Loyalty and trust are important to me in ways that you all cannot possibly know or imagine. So when those bonds are broken, it’s crossing a red line.”
Millington told the Star-Advertiser last week that the number of homeless people on Oahu streets jumped 12 percent from January 2018 while the overall number, including those living in shelters, dropped 4 percent.
The number of “unsheltered homeless” increased to 2,401 from 2,145 a year earlier. At the same time, Oahu’s “sheltered homeless population” fell to 1,910 this year from 2,350 in 2018.
The numbers mean that volunteers counted 4,311 homeless people living on Oahu streets or in shelters Jan. 22-25 — or 184 fewer than last year.
Millington emphasized last week that the annual Point in Time Count fulfills a mandate by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and is not aimed at state or local officials.
“We do this for HUD,” Millington said last week. “We don’t do this for the city, we don’t do this for the governor.”
In an op-ed column Millington wrote for the Star-Advertiser on Thursday, the same day he penned his resignation letter, Millington ended his column by saying, “Our initial findings suggest that current homeless programs and interventions are making a positive difference. But it’s also clear that there is still a long road ahead of us.”
In an email to the Star-Advertiser, Mitchell — PIC’s board chairwoman — wrote:
“Sam Millington has done an excellent job in a short-time of laying foundations for Partners In Care to move forward in establishing greater support and accountability for Oahu’s homeless service system, independent, yet respectful of government stakeholders. The PIC Board will meet to discuss the memo to bring resolution, at which point a statement will be issued to the public.”
City and state officials said they will continue to work with Partners in Care.
Marc Alexander, executive director of the city’s Office of Housing, said in an email to the Star-Advertiser:
“The city has enjoyed close collaboration with Partners In Care, and going forward we will continue this strong relationship.”
Scott Morishige, Gov. David Ige’s homeless coordinator, echoed a similar sentiment: “PIC is a key partner,” Morishige said. “Regardless of who is at the helm, we’ll continue to work with them.”
Millington last week also emphasized the unreliability of the Point in Time Count, which is conducted across the nation every January.
They “are not exact numbers and they’re not intended to be exact numbers,” he told the Star-Advertiser.
“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.”
In his resignation letter, which ran more than two pages long, Millington offered several possibilities for when he would leave Partners in Care, ranging from essentially immediately; continuing as executive director until a specific end date; staying on to help finish various projects; to remaining as a part-time consultant.
Mike Tsai is on leave. His Incidental Lives column will resume when he returns.