Editorial | Our View Editorial: Work to offset rise in homelessness June 28, 2021 Mahalo for supporting Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Enjoy this free story! A little over a month from now, the statewide moratorium on rental evictions is set to expire — setting off a true stress test of Hawaii’s ability to prevent worsening homelessness. Read more Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser! You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription. Subscribe Now Read this story for free: Watch an ad or complete a survey Log In Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story. Activate Digital Account Print subscriber but without online access? Activate your Digital Account now. A little over a month from now, the statewide moratorium on rental evictions is set to expire — setting off a true stress test of Hawaii’s ability to prevent worsening homelessness. In the past year, pandemic lockdowns led to business closures, and Hawaii’s unemployment rate spiked to among the highest in the nation. The eviction moratorium, as well as utility-payment abeyances and hundreds of millions in federal relief dollars, have kept the hurt from being worse than it could’ve been. Now, a post-pandemic reality is emerging, thanks to effective vaccines — but the outlook for homelessness is precarious. The state, city, nonprofits and communities all must work in tandem to prevent more people from becoming unsheltered. Programs that are making strides must be supported — ranging from the stalwart Institute for Human Services, which provides emergency shelter as well as rapid-rehousing help; to the newer Homeless Outreach and Navigation for Unsheltered Persons (HONU) transitional tent hubs. Also anxiously awaited is the city’s first new homelessness initiative under Mayor Rick Blangiardi: the CORE (crisis, outreach, respond and engage) homelessness effort. Targeted to roll out late summer or September, this emergency-response program can’t come too soon. The plan is to divert homeless-related 911 calls to be dealt more appropriately by CORE-branded vehicles carrying teams with mental-health, medical response and outreach-service capabilities. Such quicker, direct access to social services also is a key component of the HONU program, which provides a tool for law enforcement officers to divert homeless persons from citation and arrest. Funded by the state and operated by the city and Honolulu Police Department, HONU sites are set up for 90 days maximum, offering 24/7 access to beds, hygiene facilities, a daily meal, plus importantly, on-site social services to help with ID and other documents, housing navigation, and legal and medical services. Launched in 2019 in Waipahu, HONU currently has two sites at Keehi Lagoon and Wahiawa’s Whitmore Village. Exacerbated by the pandemic, too many families are living at or below Oahu’s poverty line, and just a paycheck away from homelessness. The scramble is on to make the most of federal relief dollars, via programs such as the city’s Rental &Utility Relief Program, with some $114 million for at-risk households (see oneoahu.org); and Oahu Housing Now, now seeking rental units for homeless clients, or those on the very brink, using nearly $11 million in federal money before some of it lapses. The overt need for help is seen in the Homeless Management Information System database, which showed 6,610 households served in homeless programs between April 2018 and April 2019. And the Jan. 22, 2020, Point-in-Time Count of people living on Oahu’s streets found 4,448 people experiencing homelessness, with only 47% of them considered “sheltered” in emergency shelters, transitional housing and safe haven situations. The pandemic canceled this year’s count of unsheltered people — but concerningly, experts believe homelessness is already increasing. In some communities, that’s been manifested in more complaints about crimes, such as break-ins and property damage. The city’s “Weed and Seed” initiative is tackling the growing problems by partnering law enforcement with community engagement in the areas of Kalihi-Palama-Chinatown, Ala Moana-Sheridan, Waipahu and Ewa-Ewa Beach. Crime-reduction goals involve more mental health and substance-treatment work with homeless populations in these neighborhoods. But even as triage is applied to today’s problems on the streets, there must be urgency toward long-term solutions. That, of course, relies heavily on more affordable housing that truly aligns with local families’ incomes. The state’s 2019 Hawaii Housing Planning Study projected that Oahu would need 22,168 housing units through 2025 (50,156 units statewide) — an overwhelming prospect. Large-scale projects must get underway now. Otherwise, for all the qualified success that homeless initiatives might bring today, without units available to meet demand, it’ll be an endless, and growing, loop on the housing treadmill. Previous Story Column: Indigenous knowledge should inform modern conservation Next Story Letters: Police must be held accountable, finally; Focus on inspections of beachfront hotels; Should Kamehameha’s name be stricken, too?