Oahu was overwhelmed with 6,924 people who became newly homeless in 2019. That number erased the 616 homeless people per month, on average, who were placed into “permanent housing” across all islands.
“You have new people falling into homelessness every day,” said Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator. “As much as we’re concentrating on the chronically homeless, those with the highest level of need, there are also new people coming into the system.”
In his State of the State address last week, Gov. David Ige made a remarkable claim about Hawaii’s progress in getting homeless people off the street and into permanent housing.
Not only has Hawaii increased the percentage of people getting into permanent housing by 73% between 2016 and 2019, Ige said, but the average number of people moving into permanent housing each month was “over 600 homeless individuals. … Those are the statistics.”
Morishige said Ige’s statement was not only accurate, but actually underreported Hawaii’s progress.
Permanent housing situations do not include homeless shelters.
But they do include fair market “Housing First” apartments that are subsidized through government vouchers; “rapid re-housing” programs that provide one-time rental or utility assistance for homeless families to get them rehoused before they settle into a life on the street; or by homeless people reuniting with families or moving in with friends.
To put Ige’s numbers in perspective, Hawaii outreach workers and volunteers counted 6,448 homeless people across all islands during the 2019 nationwide Point in Time Count that was conducted at this time last year.
So placing an average of 616 homeless people into permanent housing each month roughly meant that a total of 7,392 people — or 900 more people than were counted in the entire statewide Point in Time Count — got housed last year.
“The reason is because we have that influx of new people falling into homelessness,” Morishige said.
Morishige could not immediately produce statewide data on the number of people who became homeless each month last year.
But just on Oahu, he said, an estimated 14,870 individuals received homeless services — and 6,924 of them (or 47%) were “new” to the homeless service system in 2019.
That perception was borne out in last year’s Point in Time Count.
The state’s overall Point in Time Count for 2019 fell by 2%, and 1% on Oahu.
But Oahu simultaneously saw a double-digit percentage increase in it’s “unsheltered” homeless population — meaning the number jumped to 2,350 in 2019 from 2,052 in 2018.
At the same time, more people are getting into permanent housing through a variety of ways, Morishige said.
New state contracts with homeless shelters emphasize getting homeless clients prepared for permanent homes, which require government IDs and often government assistance, such as Social Security, food stamps and other programs. At the same time, state and county officials have been pushing for more housing vouchers for programs such as Housing First.
Four years ago, the number of homeless people getting into permanent housing each month fluctuated between 3,500 and 4,200, Morishige said.
With the new 2019 average of 616 people per month, he said, “it shows we’re making progress.”