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Nearly 7,000 became homeless in 2019 on Oahu

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                State homeless coordinator Scott Morishige, far left, checked the bridge over Waimalu Stream on Thursday where several homeless people were sleeping as his associate, Emma Grochowsky, left, interviewed Faavae Ulugia, who said he‘d been living under the bridge for six months.

    CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    State homeless coordinator Scott Morishige, far left, checked the bridge over Waimalu Stream on Thursday where several homeless people were sleeping as his associate, Emma Grochowsky, left, interviewed Faavae Ulugia, who said he‘d been living under the bridge for six months.

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Vicky Duff, with her dog, Spike, held items handed out by Point in Time 2020 volunteers who interviewed her for the state homeless count Thursday. She lives on the Pearl Harbor side of Neal S. Blaisdell Park with her boyfriend.

    CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Vicky Duff, with her dog, Spike, held items handed out by Point in Time 2020 volunteers who interviewed her for the state homeless count Thursday. She lives on the Pearl Harbor side of Neal S. Blaisdell Park with her boyfriend.

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.”

BY THE NUMBERS

>> 6,448: Total number of homeless people counted across all islands during the 2019 nationwide Point in Time Count

>> 620: Average number of homeless people per month who were placed into permanent housing in 2019

>> 6,924: Number of newly homeless people on Oahu in 2019, which represented 48% of the estimated 14,870 individuals who received homeless services on Oahu in 2019

Source: Hawaii Office of Homelessness

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