The once-every-decade federal census of Hawaii’s homeless population — which has been pushed to late September because of the COVID-19 pandemic — has the potential to affect Hawaii’s share of $800 billion in federal spending over the next 10 years, according to federal officials.
While Hawaii residents across Oahu continue to outpace the rest of the nation in responding to census questions, the specific count of Hawaii’s homeless population has been rescheduled for the three-day period Sept. 22-24 from the previous scheduled March 30 to April 1, according to Census Bureau spokeswoman Jeanette Duran.
The federal government continues to recruit people across the islands — at a rate of $24 an hour — to count homeless people in encampments, shelters and “laundromats and soup kitchens,” Duran said.
At a time when Hawaii workers are facing the worst unemployment crisis in a generation, Duran said census takers will be equipped with personal protective equipment and real-time social distancing guidelines to get an accurate count of homeless people across the islands as quickly as possible.
Potential census takers can fill out online applications at census.gov/jobs. Homeless people who want to provide their information online can visit census.gov.
Duran emphasized that, like the Point in Time Count, the annual homeless head count, the federal government’s upcoming census represents “simply a snapshot of the (homeless) population.”
In the last nationwide homeless census count in 2010, Hawaii led the nation with the largest percentage of homeless people under the age of 18, 37%, Duran said.
In Hawaii and across the nation, homelessness among teenagers remains a constant challenge because shelters and other programs for youth cannot legally house underage youth without parental or guardian approval.
Drop-in centers that provide laundry, job and other services for underage teens across Oahu have regularly expressed frustration at their limited ability to provide overnight housing to underage teenagers.
The amount of federal funds for Oahu and the rest of the islands relies on an accurate count this year, said Marc Alexander, executive director of the city’s Office of Housing.
“Whether they’re homeless or not, each person counts for $2,500 a year, so it’s important,” Alexander said. “It’s really important to get an accurate count.”
In this year’s Point in Time Count, social workers and volunteers counted 4,448 homeless people across Oahu in January. The neighbor islands’ homeless population was 2,010.
Since the coronavirus pandemic struck the islands, state and county officials have been bracing for a new generation of homeless individuals and families that will likely increase the islands’ homeless numbers over the next few years as the economic impact of COVID-19 settles in.
So an accurate 2020 census of Hawaii’s homeless population is needed as a base line as the economic aspects of the pandemic settle in, said Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator.
“The value is not only on federal funding, but having quality data on who is homeless in our community,” Morishige said. “We all know that the Point in Time Count is just one data count. The census gives us just one more robust set of data to inform the decisions we’re making in the community.”