Housing First, Coordinated Entry among plans in place

Confronting Homelessness

Last June I wrote about the value of “Housing First” and the plan we have on Maui. I must admit, I borrowed the quote “On Maui, we have a plan” from David Nakama. Nakama is the homeless program coordinator for the newly developed Maui County Home-less Program Division, a branch of the Maui County Department of Housing and Human Concerns, and the plan we are discussing is “Housing First.”

This homeless program is the first of its kind in Hawaii. Nakama wasn’t sure what to expect when he first started, but he did know he would work in collaboration with service providers and federal, state and county agencies to develop ongoing strategies to end homelessness. Since then, his position has moved beyond collaborating to becoming the Maui County main point person for homelessness and homeless programs on the island.

The Housing First method has been effective in communities all over the world by reducing homelessness, as well as reducing the costs of homelessness. Toronto has seen great success, as statistics show. I wrote about Toronto in the June column.

(See www.mauinews.com/opinion/ columns/2017/06/housing-first-only-process-thats-proven-to-rapidly-end-homelessness/.)

The success experienced in other communities gives us something to be enthusiastic about. We don’t have to develop or invent a new program, we only need to shadow the examples set before us. I feel hopeful for Maui’s future. The reason: On Maui, we have a plan and that plan is Housing First!

Last year, we saw well over 600 homeless residents move into permanent homes and we expect to see many more housed in the near future. Much is being done and we have seen positive results in reducing homelessness, but we know we can do better and that we still need to do more.

Even though we are moving forward, we still face challenges. Housing First is very thorough, detailed and multi-layered with different components — for example, the Diversion Program, Rapid Rehousing and Coordinated Entry. What? Huh? So many new ways to do things, so many new things to learn.

The question for some is: Where and how do we start? The starting place for me was to attend the available training sessions provided by the Department of Housing and Human Concerns, and moving forward I can count on Nakama and his staff to help navigate through the rest. The homeless program is working tirelessly to become familiar with available services so that the coordination of these services can be managed well.

It is important for the community to know that the Homeless Alliance considers collaboration extremely important. We know that if we are not working together, we cannot move forward. Recently, our teamwork and cooperation have grown considerably, but as with anything there is room for improvement. The challenge is learning the new skills and best practices while service and nonprofit organizations continue to fulfill their organizational missions.

To change midstream from an organizational vision to an islandwide vision can be a daunting task, a task that can easily overwhelm already busy schedules and programs. In this, the Maui homeless program will again come to the rescue.

Through their management of a database system called “Coordinated Entry,” the homeless service agencies’ work will be easily managed and become more efficient. This database will streamline the process and help move people through the system faster and into housing. This system will improve the quality of the data collection and will provide accurate information on the type of assistance individuals need up front. It will help to eliminate the dreaded duplication of services between agencies by ending the necessity of people going from agency to agency to hunt down the services they need. The Coordinated Entry database will make homeless service agencies more successful by helping them to become more efficient in their use of limited time and resources.

I am so happy to say, “On Maui, We Have a Plan!”

*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. The alliance meets on the third Wednesday of each month at Maui Economic Opportunity, 99 Mahalani St. in Wailuku. Community members are welcome to attend; call 242-4900.