Homeless ranks shrink again for second consecutive year

KAILUA-KONA, May 08, 2018, by MAX DIBLE, West Hawaii Today — Homelessness in Hawaii decreased for the second consecutive year, according to the 2018 statewide Point In Time Count Report conducted in January and released Monday morning.

While the count is inexact — coordinated by volunteers under the direction of Hawaii’s Continua of Care and largely reliant on self-reporting from within the homeless community — it provides a relative snapshot of homelessness, including demographic information as well as sheltered and unsheltered counts.

“This validates that our comprehensive program for reducing homelessness is working,” said Gov. David Ige in a press release Monday.

“We stayed the course and gave our programs time to build momentum, and now we are seeing the results,” he added.

The Legislature appropriated $50 million for new and existing homelessness initiatives during the 2018 session, the largest financial allocation in its history.

This year, the state saw a 9.6 percent decrease in overall homelessness compared with a 9 percent decrease the year before. In 2018, the actual number of homeless people living in the state dropped from 7,220 to 6,530, a reduction of 690 individuals. Two years ago, the overall homeless population fell from 7,921 individuals to 7,220, a total of 701 people.

Kauai led the way in 2018, boasting a 28.9 percent reduction in homelessness, followed by Oahu with a 9.4 percent drop and Hawaii Island with an 8.8 percent decrease.

Specific counts showed a statewide drop in unsheltered homeless of 8.6 percent, while family homelessness fell by 10.6 percent and the number of chronically homeless people decreased by 4.8 percent.

Hawaii Island cut its homeless population by nearly a third two years ago, to 953 from an all-time high of 1,394. This January, volunteers counted 869 homeless, a reduction of 84 people.

Homeless ranks were scattered around the island but 174 homeless individuals were counted in North Kona, the most of any district. Volunteers tallied 168 in South Hilo and 133 in Ka‘u.

Eight homeless people were found in North Kohala, while only three were counted in North Hilo, the two lightest homeless districts.

“We’re definitely happy with the numbers showing that it’s decreasing (overall),” said Brandee Menino, chief executive officer of HOPE Services Hawaii.

It wasn’t all good news for the Big Island, however. All but 200 of the county’s homeless were unsheltered. That population dropped by only 1.3 percent from 2017 to 2018, the worst results in the state.

Another disappointment, according to Menino, was an increase in family homelessness in the unsheltered count for the island. She attributed this to several factors, noting rural areas are underserved. There are only six outreach workers serving the entire county and their efforts are primarily centered in Kona and Hilo.

There’s also only one emergency shelter specifically for families, which is located in Hilo.

Part of the Legislature’s appropriations in 2018 are earmarked for a family assessment center, which Hawaii County has its eyes on.

Another initiative the state intends to fund is an ohana zones program, with at least one zone heading for Hawaii Island.

“We’re getting good at housing placements and moving people into housing quicker — that’s what the data is showing,” Menino said. “But we’re also seeing the number of people entering our system (at) the same rate.”

“We need to figure out why people are falling into homelessness and (stop it),” she added.

Read the news article direct through Hawaii Tribune Herald here.