“It’s not just a sudden one-time spike, but it’s going to occur gradually over a longer period of time and probably on a greater level of magnitude than what we have encountered previously,” he said.

Morishige also told lawmakers that homeless service providers are continuing to up their game, and that work must continue to address the chronic issue.

“It might seem that a lot of what I’m sharing is grim about what we can expect moving forward, but the trend data also did show some bright spots,” he said.

The decline in the past few years was one positive thing, and recent projects to provide the homeless with housing are another.

A focus since 2017 placed on channeling the homeless into permanent housing has been a large part of the progress, according to Morishige, who said this needs to continue.

“Understanding what contributed to the recent decrease will be helpful to understand how we can mitigate or reverse any future increases we see that are tied to the pandemic,” he said.

Among recent projects providing shelter to the homeless have been 90 beds in two Hawaii island hotels used as emergency shelters. Hawaii County officials also built 50 micro-housing units, including some that were set up in a public pool parking lot.

On Maui, similar microunits measuring 8 feet by 8 feet were erected in a county park as a transition to permanent housing. Maui County also is spending about $6 million in state funds to fix up a dilapidated University of Hawaii Maui College dorm for 12 families. This project is expected to be finished in the next two months.

On Kauai, government leaders established camping zones at five beach parks serving 283 individuals, and a 21-unit affordable-housing project called Kealaula on Pua Loke was built for families who are transitioning out of homelessness and pay $500 to $700 a month in rent.

Efforts on Oahu have included the Provisional Outdoor Screening and Triage facility set up in Keehi Lagoon Beach Park with more than 100 tents. This facility, according to city officials, had served roughly 500 homeless as of September after opening in April, with many moving on to longer-term shelters or permanent housing.

On the downside, congregate homeless shelters around the state had to reduce their capacity to reduce risks for spreading COVID-19.

“Homelessness was a crisis before the pandemic,” Thielen said. “So we are not only dealing with a crisis of a pandemic. We have a crisis within a pandemic.”

“This is unprecedented times,” added Brandee Menino, chairwoman of the all-volunteer organization Bridging the Gap serving the neighbor islands. “We must continue to work with urgency.”