State reports that the number of people transitioning from shelters is on an upswing

Hawaii Independent Staff

HONOLULU—Gov. Linda Lingle took part in a celebration to mark the fourth anniversary of the first “homeless” facility built on Oahu’s Leeward Coast after the governor declared an emergency due to the health and safety impact of the large number of individuals and families living on beaches and in parks. The first Leeward Coast shelter, Onelau‘ena Transitional Shelter, opened on October 25, 2006 at a former military building at Kalaeloa. The effort brought together partners from the community, including non-profit service providers, churches, private developers, businesses, the military, and other organizations.

The emergency declaration brought together private developers, non-profit organizations, housing advocates, State, county, and federal agencies and others to develop a six-year plan addressing chronic homelessness and the lack of affordable housing.

Using authority granted under the Hawaii State Constitution and State laws, the governor signed emergency proclamations enabling development of the Next Step transitional shelter in Kakaako in just six days, and the building of shelters on the Leeward coast in record time.

The multi-agency team of State Agencies—called HEART (Homeless Efforts Achieving Results Together)—used the emergency proclamations to develop shelters Onelau‘ena, and Pai‘olu Kaiaulu on the Leeward Coast in 2006 and 2007, and Kahikolu ‘Ohana Hale ‘O Wai‘anae, Ulu Ke Kukui, and Kumuhonua in 2008.

On Kauai, the State worked collaboratively with County officials to open Manaolana, the island’s first emergency shelter, as well as the Ka Uapo transitional housing facility at the former State Courthouse building in Lihue.

These efforts spurred action to increase shelter capacity throughout the State, said Russ Saito, heads the State’s “homeless” solutions efforts. As a result, shelter capacity has doubled since 2006 from 587 to 1188 units, while dormitory beds have increased by 50 percent from 525 beds to 785 beds.

The number of people who received services from outreach provider agencies increased 18.2 percent from 9,875 in fiscal year 2006 to 11,680 in fiscal year 2009. The number of people who received service in shelters increased 66.7 percent from 5,688 in fiscal year 2006 to 9,483 in fiscal year 2009. And the number of people who transitioned into permanent housing increased 163.9 percent from 1,532 in fiscal year 2006 to 4043 in fiscal year 2009.

“We should be proud, as a community, of our collaborative efforts to help those in need,” Saito said in a statement. “However, these achievements don’t tell the whole story. What makes everything worthwhile are successes that come out of these facilities.”

Saito described a case involving a couple with a history of drug abuse.

In a transitional shelter, the husband worked and the wife cared for her grandchildren and also attended budgeting, anger management, and job readiness classes. Their hard work and money saved while in the shelter enabled them to move into public housing in less than a year and a half. The couple remains clean and sober until today.

Saito also described a case involving a divorced mother and grandmother with prior military service who had been living on the beach with her daughter and two grandchildren. Initially unemployed and struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, the woman got cleaned up, and entered an emergency shelter with her family.

Working with a case manager, in just six months she improved her family relationships, secured benefits due her as a veteran, participated in various training programs, qualified for federal housing vouchers, found employment, and moved with her family into a transitional shelter where she is expected to continue her journey toward self-sufficiency..

“One of the best long-term ways of reducing homelessness is to significantly increase the supply of affordable housing,” Saito said.

Between 2003 and 2010, 4,544 affordable houses and rental units were built. For years 2011 to 2015, the State set a production target of 5,580 homes and rental units. Of that number, 554 units are already under construction.

Last week, the Center on the Family at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the State Department of Human Services released the Homeless Service Utilization Report: Hawaii 2010. The report provided data about the demographic characteristics of individuals and families who accessed homeless support services during the fiscal year 2010.

Facts brought to light in the report include an increase in “homeless” service usage in the City and County of Honolulu from 2009-2010. Hawaii County saw a significant increase of 15 percent in outreach service usage, but also a significant decrease of 12 percent in shelter service usage.

Just under three thousand Hawaii children experienced “homelessness” with their families and accessed services. Based on parental reports, 25 percent of those children have one or more physical, mental behavioral or developmental issues that caused their parents concern.