Hawaii Aiming to End Homelessness by 2020

On October 16, 2015, Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed an emergency proclamation due to significant gains in the state’s homeless population, which was estimated at 7,620 homeless people statewide and was the highest per capita in the country. The proclamation enabled funds of over $1.3 million to go towards quickly building a transitional housing facility for homeless families, the immediate extension of existing contracts for homeless services, and financing housing programs. The emergency proclamation was extended six times until expiring in October 2016.

Although we are no longer in an official state of emergency, homelessness continues to be a major issue. In 2016, Hawaii still had the highest rate of homelessness with 554 homeless people per 100,000 population. New York had the second highest rate at 437, and Oregon followed with 323 homeless people per 100,000 population.

The 2017 Hawaii Statewide Homeless Point-In-Time (PIT)* count showed a 9% decrease from 7,921 homeless people in 2016 to 7,220 in January 2017. While Oahu had a slight increase, there were large reductions in the homeless population on the neighbor islands.

* The objective of PIT is to calculate a dependable measure of the sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals and families. PIT data is crucial for planning on both the national and local levels and is utilized to determine policy and resource allocations.

Homelessness by County

City and County of Honolulu

Oahu experienced a 0.4%, or 19 person, increase in overall homeless numbers. The total count in 2017 was 4,959, consisting of 2,635 homeless people in shelters and 2,324 unsheltered.

Homeless veterans, those who are unsheltered and chronically homeless, as well as the total unsheltered homeless population in Oahu all went up. There was a 9% increase in veterans going through homelessness, with 413 in 2016 to 449 in 2017.

Those who are chronically homeless went up 3% to 1,004 people in 2017 compared to 969 in 2016. Someone is said to be chronically homeless if they are living in a shelter or place not meant to be lived in continuously for a minimum of 12 months or intermittently with at least four separate bouts of homelessness to equal a total time of 12 months or more.

The total amount of unsheltered homeless people on Oahu also surged 7% from 2016 and has continued to increase every year for the last five years.

Families experiencing homelessness and homeless individuals in shelters both decreased. Homeless families went down 14% from 2,143 in 2016 to 1,847 in 2017. The population in homeless shelters also declined for the fifth year in a row, going down 5% from 2016 to 2017.

Hawaii County

The Big Island had the best improvement in homeless population in the state, representing a 32% decrease of 441 people. It went down from 1,394 in 2016 to 953 in 2017. Hawaii County’s homeless count in 2017 consisted of 275 people in shelters and 678 unsheltered.

The following components supported the improvement in the Big Island’s homeless numbers:
– A better PIT count process due to cooperation between the county government, service agencies, businesses, and volunteers
– Service providers and the county government working together on housing programs resulted in 617 people getting off the streets
– More state funding for homeless prevention and rapid rehousing services including Coordinated Statewide Homeless Initiative (CSHI), Housing Placement Program (HPP), and Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG)
– Using short- and medium-term rent assistance programs helped 45 families move into homes
– Increased federal funding for the Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8) resulted in 58 families getting affordable housing
– Implementation of the Housing First approach, which includes strategies such as reducing barriers to enter shelters and removing pre-conditions to shelter placement and housing programs

Maui County

The homeless community in Maui County went from 1,145 in 2016 to 896 in 2017 for a decrease of 22% or 249 people. Of the 896 homeless counted in 2017, 395 were in shelters and 501 were unsheltered.

Maui’s decrease in homeless people can be attributed to the following:
– Preventing homelessness and promoting quick rehousing through services such as HPP-Housing Placement Program, ESG-Emergency Solutions Grant, State Shallow subsidy, and County of Maui RAP – Rental Assistance Program
– Additional Section 8 vouchers along with the policy change to allow voucher-holders to rent rooms
– Using the Housing First strategies

Kauai County

Kauai has the smallest homeless population statewide. Homeless numbers in Kauai went from 442 in 2016 to 412 in 2017, representing a 7% or 30 person decrease. Of the 412 homeless people in 2017, 115 were in shelters and 297 were unsheltered.

Kauai’s decrease in homelessness is the result of:
– Continued efforts of the Kauai Community Alliance, also known as the Kauai Continuum of Care, the primary group serving the homeless in Kauai County
– More volunteers and agencies assisting with the PIT count
– Release and increased availability of Section 8 vouchers as well as Tenant Based Rental Assistance Vouchers (TBRA) allowed 70 people to find housing
– Support for landlords who accepted formerly homeless tenants

Ending Homelessness in Hawaii

The State Legislature appropriated an additional $12 million over the base budget to address Hawaii’s high rate of homelessness. Gov. Ige’s goal is to lower homelessness down to “functional zero” by 2020. This means that when people become homeless, they would be moved into housing within a couple months. Hawaii would have enough housing available for homeless individuals and proper services to aid with transition to permanent housing.

“The common goal is to get people into housing as quickly as possible,” said Scott Morishige, the governor’s homeless coordinator. “And not only get them into housing but provide them with the right level of support so they can maintain that housing.”

The framework to achieve this goal is separated into four segments: Data & Infrastructure, Affordable Housing, Health & Human Services, and Public Safety

Data & Infrastructure

$675,000 was set aside for repair and maintenance of state-owned shelters and to boost the state’s homeless data system for evaluation and outcome monitoring.

Affordable Housing

The Rent Supplement program gives subsidies for taking in homeless tenants. The short-term goal is to stimulate landlord participation. The long-term goal is to build 10,000 more affordable housing units by 2020.

Health & Human Services

$6 million will be used for evidence-based practices and expanding Housing First and Rapid Re-housing programs throughout the state, $2 million will be dispensed among service providers for homeless outreach, and $1.4 million will go to a Family Assessment Center under construction in Kakaako.

Public Safety

$1.925 million will go towards diverting homeless encampments from state lands and preventing homeless people from ending up in prison instead of getting appropriate assistance.

“There is no shortcut,” said Gov. Ige. “It really is about being focused, consistent and driving to make a difference each and every day.”