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Deaths of homeless people continue to climb on Oahu

  • GEORGE F. LEE / Feb. 7
                                The number of Oahu homeless people who died on the streets continued to climb in 2019. Here, a homeless encampment is seen along Ohe Street at Kakaako Waterfront Park Mauka in February.

    GEORGE F. LEE / Feb. 7

    The number of Oahu homeless people who died on the streets continued to climb in 2019. Here, a homeless encampment is seen along Ohe Street at Kakaako Waterfront Park Mauka in February.

Some 127 homeless people on Oahu died last year, seven more than in 2018, the city announced today.

The number of homeless deaths last year represented a 46% increase from the 87 homeless people who died on Oahu in 2017, according to an analysis by new acting Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Masahiko Kobayashi.

The numbers may not reflect deaths that occurred in hospitals or other health care facilities, the city said.

At the end of last year, Hawaii lost its ignoble status as having the highest per capita rate of homelessness in the country.

With a rate of 44.9 homeless people per 10,000 people, Hawaii now has the second highest per capita rate of homelessness. New York’s rate of 46.4 homeless people per 10,000 people now leads the nation.

The average age of death among Oahu’s homeless was 54.4 years old, far below the national average of 78.6 years, the city said.

In her initial analysis of the homeless deaths, Kobayashi said in a statement that, “Many of the reported cases had a drug history, unclear circumstances surrounding the death, or no physician to sign the death certificate. Although we have not completed analysis on all 2019 cases yet, the number of homeless who died in a homicidal manner increased from three to ten. Drugs, especially methamphetamine, continually take their lives. The average age is 54 years old (ranging from 19 to 88 years), and we have seen many homeless deaths at an old age.”

The 120 Oahu deaths in 2018 was an increase from the 90 deaths that were originally reported; and the 87 deaths in 2017 were up from the original report of 70, the city said. The revised numbers were the result of a more thorough case review, the city said.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell cited two recent programs intended to help homeless people get off the street and get help from social service organizations: the one-year anniversary of the Punawai Rest Stop in Kalihi, which served more than 2,000 homeless people in its first year; and the recent launch of the HONU (Homeless Outreach and Navigation to Unsheltered Persons) pilot program that began in Waipahu.

In its first 19 days, 74 homeless people sought shelter in the HONU — and 66 of them have been placed “into more permanent shelters or housing,” Caldwell said.

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