Diversion Program focuses on the homeless who want to be helped

Confronting Homelessness

In December’s column, I wrote about changes on Maui regarding homelessness, and specifically about “Housing First.” The Housing First model has been effective in many states but requires necessary systematic changes that are mandated by federal and state government. Some of these changes are called “Closing the Front Door: Creating a Successful Diversion Program for Homeless Families.”

The Diversion Program (as referred to on Maui) requires revamping outreach programs to be more intentional and productive with homelessness management. The intent is that those who are ready to move away from homelessness are the ones who will be prioritized for the available resources that lead to permanent housing. Currently, housing programs are making appointments with people who want help and are limiting the time they go out for outreach to people living openly in the community, i.e., streets and beaches. The people who want help will be the ones to receive services that will help them move toward permanent housing and subsequently become self-sustaining.

I’m sure we can all agree that we need more productive results for housing the homeless. Since resources are limited, they need to be used for people who want to move toward permanent housing. We can all agree that low-income housing and productive resource allocation are crucial. However, has this been prioritized in the past? No, not exactly. Up until now the most difficult to house have received the most attention and have been using the majority of the resources. This practice has proven to be very counterproductive.

For example, there is a homeless woman we’ll call Ann (not her real name) who likes to live at the airport. Whenever Ann becomes problematic, the airport security or concerned citizens will call one of the homeless housing agencies, such as Family Life Center, for help. In the past, every time the center received this type of call it would send a case worker to respond and Ann would be given immediate help, which included case management, a bed, clean clothing, and meals while the case manager worked on finding permanent solutions. Sounds good, but before long Ann leaves and goes right back where they found her.

So on goes the cycle for Ann and people like her. All of which take a great deal of time and money while Ann is still no closer to living in a permanent home.

I am not saying that Ann can’t be housed or that Ann’s needs are not important. However, now is not the correct time to help Ann. There just isn’t enough time or money to continue this counterproductive cycle. It’s important to concentrate on those who want to be helped now, and then systematically move toward housing for everyone, one step at a time as resources allow.

The Diversion Program on Maui starts with a discussion that includes a set of questions that help to determine each household’s needs both immediate and long term. The first question is, “Why are you seeking emergency shelter today?” This question would have eliminated Ann from the process because she wasn’t seeking shelter; the community was seeking shelter for her. The interview is designed to respect the dignity of each person thus allowing them to participate in decisions that will lead to a home.

The Diversion Practice is also intended to divert homelessness by connecting people to the correct resources through agency cooperation, so that they can continue to live where they are and avoid homelessness altogether.

These new changes can be a bit overwhelming, but they are positive and necessary. Albert Einstein once said: “What is insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” To achieve different results, we need to try different methods.

With that being said, there is still an extreme affordable rental shortage on Maui. Until we, as a community, find a way to provide more affordable rentals, many of these folks will never be able to afford to live in a home.

* Joyce Kawakami is a full-time volunteer, founder and CEO of Feed My Sheep Inc. As an active member of The Maui Homeless Alliance, she chairs the Awareness Committee.