A new partnership between Honolulu law enforcement and outreach workers to encourage homeless people in Chinatown to seek help and housing has dramatically reduced the number of law enforcement encounters, calls for medical treatment and days spent on the street.
The results of the first year of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program — or LEAD — even surprised Honolulu Police Department Capt. Mike Lambert, who is leading HPD’s homeless efforts.
“It’s super, super exciting,” Lambert said at a press conference Wednesday, announcing the results of the first year of the program.
Lambert called the data “better than what I hoped for. … This data is huge.”
He said he hopes the results encourage officials to expand LEAD across the entire island. A similar LEAD program started on Maui in May and already has shown fewer encounters between police and the initial people entered into the program.
West Hawaii island is scheduled to start up its own LEAD program next month and Kauai expects to roll out its version before the end of the year, said Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator.
Some 47 homeless people in Chinatown were invited to join Honolulu’s LEAD program since it began on July 1, 2018, rather than face the possibility of a citation or even arrest for illegal homeless activity — and 37 people ended up enrolling.
While the number of participants is relatively small, a study by the University of Hawaii credited LEAD with dramatic results in their behavior, including:
>> A 55% reduction in law enforcement encounters;
>> A 40% reduction in the use of emergency medical services. Emergency room visits also dropped from 32% of clients using an ER to 19%;
>> A 38% decrease in days sleeping in public — meaning the average homeless person went to 13 days a month living outside compared to 21 days before joining LEAD;
>> An 18% reduction in methamphetamine usage. (In the previous six months, 78% reported using methamphetamine, 68% used alcohol and 33% used opioids and/or heroin);
>> And a 17% reduction in mentally unhealthy days.
Out of the homeless people who agreed to join LEAD, 60% are female and 49% are Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. The higher number of female participants suggests that women may be more likely to participate in a program like LEAD, according to the UH study.
The idea for LEAD came out of Seattle and is now replicated in 34 states. The results in Chinatown are similar to the experience in Seattle, which found that 58% of the Seattle participants were less likely to be arrested, according to the UH study.
In Chinatown, homeless people are directed into LEAD through encounters with either state sheriff’s deputies or HPD officers.
Outreach workers from the Hawai‘i Health & Harm Reduction Center go out with law enforcement officers and encounter homeless people together. Or an officer might refer an outreach worker to a specific homeless person, said Heather Lusk, executive director of the Hawai‘i Health & Harm Reduction Center.
One of them was a man who had been on the street for 10 years. It took a year for outreach workers to get him his birth certificate from American Samoa, which is necessary to get a job and housing.
After 10 years, “he’s now housed,” Lusk said.
During the initial encounter with a homeless person, the outreach worker fills out a one-page screening form, then arranges a future meeting usually where the person sleeps, or less likely at the Hawai‘i Health & Harm Reduction Center on Ala Moana Boulevard.
“We usually have to go out to them,” Lusk said.
During the second meeting, the outreach worker fills out a more detailed, 14-page follow up questionnaire that asks demographic information, how often they go to an emergency room and short- and long-term goals to develop a treatment plan that could include mental health treatment, drug treatment and long-term housing.
“Initially they often want small things like food,” Lusk said.
LEAD offers participants bus passes, and grant money pays for Lyft drivers to take clients to doctor’s appointments, Lusk said.
“We found transportation is one of the No. 1 keys to gain trust and get them services,” she said.
Some participants have been reunified with long-lost families.
“That’s been big,” Lusk said.
One person underwent a badly needed heart procedure and two were cured of Hepatitis C after joining LEAD, Lusk said.
Outreach workers make a minimum of two visits per week and there is no limit to how long people can be enrolled in the program, Lusk said.
In a statement, she said: “These results show that providing intensive case-management services to underserved persons greatly improves their health and well-being while reducing the burden on law enforcement to issue citations and lowering the use of emergency medical services.”
How it works:
>> Homeless people are directed into LEAD through encounters with either state sheriff’s deputies or Honolulu police officers.
>> Outreach workers from the Hawai’i Health & Harm Reduction Center go out with law enforcement officers or officers refer an outreach worker to a specific homeless person.
>> The outreach worker fills out a one-page screening form, then arranges a future meeting usually where the homeless person sleep.
>> During the second meeting the outreach worker fills out a 14-page follow up questionnaire to determine what services the person needs.
>> Outreach workers make a minimum of two visits per week and there is no limit to how long people can be enrolled in the program.
>> Providing intensive case-management services to underserved persons greatly improves their health while reducing the burden on law enforcement to issue citations and lowering the use of emergency medical services.