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Homelessness down slightly in Maui County in 2019

Point-in-Time Count shows 862 people living on streets or in shelters

A man looks through a Kahului dumpster Tuesday. A Homeless Point-in-Time Count on Jan. 22 showed homelessness in Maui County down 1 percent from 2018. The Maui News MATTHEW THAYER photo

While it may seem that homelessness on Maui is getting worse, a recent survey shows there has been a very slight decrease in people living on the streets, and an increase in people living in shelters.

Bridging the Gap, a group of local agencies (Community Alliance Partners in Hawaii County, the Kauai Community Alliance and the Maui Homeless Alliance) working to end homelessness, presented the results of its 2019 Homeless Point-in-Time Count on Tuesday, showing that Maui County homelessness is down 1 percent (873 to 862) since the previous year.

“Even though the data shows that homelessness is on the decline, there is still much work to do,” Maude Cumming, executive director of the Family Life Center, said in a news release Tuesday. “We need to continue to invest in affordable housing, and maintain Housing First and Rapid Re-housing programs.”

Every January, a federally mandated survey is conducted to count how many people either slept in a car, on the street or in any area that is not meant for habitation. This survey is done by volunteers who walk through parks, beaches and other locations, surveying people in one night and asking “where did you sleep on January 22nd?”

According to the Point-in-Time Count, homelessness in Maui has dropped slightly for the third consecutive year.

Specifically, family homelessness is down 9 percent (99 families to 90 families since 2018), while veteran homelessness also decreased by 21 percent (62 veterans in 2018 versus 46 in 2019).

The data also shows that more than half of island’s total homeless population is unsheltered, as opposed to living in an emergency or transitional house. A majority of the unsheltered homeless population resides in Central Maui at 43.4 percent, followed by Kihei (21) and Lahaina (20.8).

Overall, the number of people living in shelters on Maui increased from 399 in 2018 to 420 this year, while the number of people who were living on the streets decreased from 474 in 2018 to 442 this year.

The Point-in-Time Count does not capture every homeless person.

Errors may be caused by missing and unknown client names, failure to record persons in drop-in centers, failure to count in smaller geographical areas or any other miscalculations.

Bridging the Gap has created methods to reduce the errors, such as training staff, collaborating with professionals, reviewing records and keeping an extensive report.

The raw data is shared with every county and compared year to year.

There are several causes of homelessness, such as socioeconomic circumstances, substance abuse, financial loss, natural disasters and so forth. The National Low Income and Housing Coalition points out another problem.

According to its Out of Reach 2018 study, Hawaii has the highest housing wage in the country.

In order to afford a two-bedroom unit on Maui, it’s estimated that residents must earn $31.13 per hour, leaving many people financially strained and unable to support themselves.

Residents struggle to earn these wages, and those moving here are faced with the same issue.

Bridging the Gap offers a few ways to address the homelessness problem. For example, the Rapid Re-Housing Program helps families and individuals to return to permanent housing by offering limited financial assistance, housing identification and management services.

Active outreach programs and permanent supportive housing services also provide help for chronically homeless people and those with disabilities.

The newest program, Housing First, aims to house people before connecting them with social and medical services. Housing and homelessness officials have reasoned that a home can offer people stability that will allow them to keep up other aspects of their lives, such as keeping a job or staying off drugs. The goal is to transition away from temporary shelters and provide people with long-term affordable homes.

Bridging the Gap hopes to continue the downward trend in homelessness and increase community efforts to do so. For more information on Bridging the Gap or to view current and past reports, visit hawaiihomelessprogramshmis.org.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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