Hawaii’s homeless population has decreased for the first time in eight years, the governor announced Wednesday.
The annual Point in Time count—a census of people experiencing homelessness—showed a nine percent overall decrease in the number of homeless individuals across the state compared to the same period last year.
The 2017 count found 7,220 homeless individuals across Hawaii compared to 7,921 in 2016.
“I commend the many partners who have gotten out of their silos, come to the table and rolled up their sleeves. Together, we are finding more efficient ways to move people off the streets and into homes. This report is proof that our collective efforts are working,” said Gov. David Ige. “While today’s news indicates that the tide has turned, there is more to do. My administration remains focused on increasing affordable housing and reducing homelessness in the State of Hawaii.”
Hawaii County saw the largest decrease at 32 percent, Maui County saw a 22 percent decline, and Kauai County saw a seven percent drop compared to 2016.
Oahu saw an increase of less than a half-percent in the number homeless individuals, which officials point out is still lower than the previous year’s 0.75 percent increase.
Chronically homeless individuals increased by 3 percent, total unsheltered individuals increased by 7 percent, and veterans registered a 9 percent increase in 2017.
“With that said, there’s a lot happening on Oahu to make sure that we start to follow the trend that the neighbor islands are following, and we are. We’re seeing things that are working. We’re seeing best practices that are working like Housing First, like working cooperatively, like having a very cross-sector response to homelessness,” said Jen Stasch, director, Partners in Care.
Homeless advocates tell us they feel that they’ve turned the corner in dealing with the problem, but admit there’s still a lot of work to be done.
One of the more difficult areas that outreach workers have been dealing with on Oahu is Iwilei. There’s been a constant population of homeless there for years. State and city officials tell us the best way to deal with the problem is to stay the course, and keep sending outreach workers to offer the services that are available.
“The object is certainly not just to displace individuals from one area to another. We want to focus on a long-term solution looking at permanent housing,” said Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator. “We know that it’s not always possible to engage people to connect to services the first time around, so we really have to have a consistent focus on outreach and making sure we’re reaching the hardest-served individuals and we’re continuing to do that.”
Homeless advocates say one reason why there’s been improvement on the neighbor islands is because it’s been easier to find permanent housing there. So there’s also a push now to make that more available on Oahu.
“People in this kind of situation, they don’t want to move into a shelter, but 90 percent of them, if you offer them four walls, a roof, and a door that locks, with support, they will take that,” said Marc Alexander, the city’s housing executive director.
The priority is housing families with younger children. On that end, Oahu has made some improvement with a 14-percent decrease. The state coordinates providing services, while the city’s in charge of enforcement for the sake of public safety, if necessary, to enforce the sit-lie ban.
“When we enforce laws, such as the city enforces sit-lie or sidewalk obstruction, we want to make sure our outreach workers are always going out with law enforcement hand-in-hand, so we can connect and engage people in homeless services and ultimately get them into permanent housing to look at a long-term resolution to their situation,” Morishige said.
There is a proposal to expand the sit-lie ban to the Iwilei area, but city officials say that would be a last resort.
“Mayor Caldwell has said again and again, the only permanent solution to homelessness is housing and an effective support system,” Alexander said. “We’ve made major strides. We still have a long ways to go, but the numbers indicate that what we’re doing is working.”