Hilo,Friday, Oct. 28, 2011 – Working during the pre-dawn darkness this week, 50 volunteers searched Hilo’s alleyways, parks and other secluded areas where the homeless go to sleep. The target population was found and surveyed, making Hilo the first community in Hawaii to participate in the nationwide 100,000 Homes movement aimed at providing housing for that many people.

“Hilo was really hungry and ready to go and get started,” said Brandee Menino, chief executive officer for HOPE Services Hawaii.Formerly called Office for Social Ministry, the local nonprofit spearheaded the outreach effort that also involved numerous social service providers who conducted the surveys from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. “We had 11 teams walk the streets of downtown Hilo,” Menino said of a three-day effort that ended Wednesday.

They contacted an estimated 150 people, 130 of whom completed a 32-question survey that asked about health issues such as AIDS and cancer, housing needs and history of substance abuse, she said. “We’re trying to identify the most vulnerable individuals in Hilo,” Menino said, noting one person surveyed said he has lived on the streets for 30 years. About 60 percent of the respondents agreed to have their photographs taken, she said. “We never took their pictures before,” Menino said, adding that was done so the social service providers may find the people in the future.

Many of the “houseless” suffer from mental illness, said “Sistah” Clara Alvarez, one of the 11 team leaders and the administrator for Under His Wings Social Ministry, which is part of the New Hope Christian Fellowship. Alvarez said she recognized many of the people the team surveyed, making their work easier because the parties already had built mutual trust. “It’s a great experience to go out there on their field and really see how it is,” she said of the outreach effort.

The data is being analyzed and will be presented today during an 11 a.m. press conference at HOPE’s Resource Center at 116 Kapiolani St. in Hilo, Menino said.”Now we know where to start advocating for more federal dollars,” she said, noting HOPE has obtained money for subsidized housing under a program similar to the Hawaii County Section 8 program. The plan is to maximize resources in order to get the homeless into housing and receiving services as soon as possible, Menino said.

HOPE currently runs a Hilo shelter for up to 16 families and a Kona facility capable of housing 31 individuals, she said. “It’s the only homeless shelter on the Big Island,” Menino said of the two facilities. Hilo’s houseless population is increasing, said Alvarez, who said she’s seen spikes when weather turns cold on the mainland, prompting people to come here. “We’re going to see how we can better do it,” she said of helping that target group.

Jason Armstrong . “Volunteers survey homeless”Hawaii Tribune Herald, 28 Oct. 2011.http://hawaiitribune-herald.com/sections/news/local-news/volunteers-survey-homeless.html#.