July 19, 2015 – Hawaii Tribune Herald, Your Views Section

Homelessness is on the rise in paradise. While that doesn’t surprise us at HOPE Services Hawaii, it has been validated by the latest Point-in-Time count and “Utilization of Homeless Services” report by University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Center on Family.

Both reports show that Hawaii County experienced the highest increase in homeless population across the state. This is alarming. Are we — are you — really OK with that? People living on the streets, out of cars, in caves or on the dirt?

As a community, we cannot continue to be complacent as this social issue grows around us. The system is clogged. Headlines recently announced Hawaii County has frozen its waiting list for Section 8 housing — the federally subsidized program. Right now, there are 7,000 on that list, and the wait time for a home is five years.

People become homeless for myriad reasons. Some are unable to afford rent, are low-income, are single parent/one-wage earners or are un- or underemployed. Others are fleeing domestic violence or abuse. Some suffer from poor health, substance abuse, or have no place to go after a hospital discharge or natural disaster.

Young people who have aged out of the foster care system or adults returning to the community from incarceration are often homeless. There are those who arrive on the island with no plan. And, there are elders who have no family.

Last year, HOPE Services Hawaii served 4,100 people by providing shelter, housing and support services for mental health, substance treatment, education, employment and financial management. Our caseload is made up of families, youth and adult individuals.

For those of us who work in the field, it is very difficult to see people living in tents or makeshift shelters; harder to see families living this way. Housing helps keep the family unit together. How can one focus on getting a job, a child’s education or family matters without a decent living situation?

Do we expect children to succeed in life and school if they are without a safe and stable place to call home? The foundations of a strong, vibrant community and economy are healthy and thriving families and individuals. That starts with a home.

While Hawaii ranks No, 1 in the nation for quality of life, it’s incredibly expensive to live here. Incomes have not kept pace with the cost of living. Many families and individuals spend 30 percent — even half — of their monthly income on rent alone and are a single setback away from losing their housing.

Affordable housing must be given immediate attention and made a top priority. The key to alleviating homelessness is not to build more shelters. It starts with having a plan for more readily available affordable housing.

What is the county’s short- and long-term plan for affordable housing development? How is it leveraging private partnerships to make affordable housing a reality in all regions of the island? How are resources prioritized so more rental subsidies can be made available to those who merely need a small boost to continue affording a home? What can we, as a community, do to help the county with an affordable housing plan?

HOPE Services Hawaii is a local nonprofit aimed at alleviating homelessness and transitioning people into stable, affordable housing. We believe vacant state, county and private lands should be identified and evaluated for affordable housing development. Existing buildings and structures could be converted into affordable housing units. Miniature homes or “micro-housing” need serious consideration.

If we are going to break the cycle of homelessness, our community needs to flex its political muscle to solve the affordable housing crisis.

Brandee Menino

Chief executive officer,

HOPE Services Hawaii