Governor’s take on homeless efforts contradicts providers

In his State of the State address Monday, Gov. David Ige touted the state’s efforts to combat homelessness, saying that more beds for homeless people are being created through a new contract process — a statement contradicted by Maui shelter officials last week.

Ige said that the state Department of Human Services awarded contracts to 33 homeless shelters statewide, totaling $13 million.

“Together, those awardees have pledged to add nearly 200 beds, increasing the total to 3,761, and to double the number of individuals they place in permanent housing from about 3,000 to 6,200.”

But last week, officials from the Family Life Center, which runs a homeless shelter for men, women and children in Kahului, said they will need to reduce beds from 50 to 18 and discontinue shelter services for families and men because of more stringent requirements developed by the state Human Services Department following the passage of a bill by the Legislature last year. Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Centers, the other major homeless shelter on the island, said it also is likely to lose some beds under the new rules.

“There may be some shelters that have decided to cut beds,” said Scott Morishige, the state homeless coordinator, after the governor’s speech Monday. “Although some shelters are reducing beds, others are adding them.”

Morishige said that the changes are not all about bed space, but also about finding homeless people permanent housing as soon as possible. He said permanent housing can be found through other programs the state has started and is looking to fund, including rental subsidies.

“At the end of the day, it’s not (all about) beds (but) how many people we can get into permanent housing,” he said.

The legislation that led to the changes was based on concerns that some beds in shelters were going unused, Morishige added. With the new requirements, there is more financial accountability and compliance with performance standards tied to state funding.

As far as shelter bed numbers going down in the short term on Maui, Morishige said that the state is working with shelters and does not want to see drastic decreases of beds. The 18-month contracts go into effect Feb. 1, but Morishige said that negotiations between the state and the providers are ongoing.

Carol Reimann, director of the county Department of Housing and Human Concerns, took a more critical approach of the new rules for homeless shelters.

“We know that the state had good intentions setting the new criteria so that more people would use the shelters. However, the unintended consequence is a substantial reduction in bed space,” Reimann said. “Unfortunately, the state’s new stringent criteria for homeless bed space is placing additional pressure on an already stressful situation.

“Our shelters are full, and we have a significant shortage of affordable housing. . . . By reducing our service providers’ ability to provide shelter to homeless individuals, they are further burdening our current housing situation.”

In his speech, Ige stressed continued work on the homeless issue.

“Let me be clear about this: We have a crisis. and we are working urgently to fix it in a humane and compassionate manner,” he said.

The governor cited $20.9 million each year of the two-year budget he proposed for rent subsidies, supportive services, outreach services and enforcement.

Ige commended Mayor Alan Arakawa for his efforts to address homelessness. He said that the mayor “stepped forward” and convened a landlord summit that generated much-needed housing units and forged new relationships with Realtors, homeless service providers and the business community.

“We thank the governor for his kind words,” said Reimann.

She said that the landlord summit June 20 was put on by the Maui Homeless Alliance in conjunction with the county’s Department of Housing and Human Concerns Section 8 team and the Realtors Association of Maui. The summit educated landlords about renters on government subsidies and other issues in the hopes of finding more housing opportunities.

“Great relationships were forged during this event and important information exchanged,” Reimann said.

Besides the homeless situation, Ige spoke about sustainable agriculture and his goal to double local food production by 2020 with the purchase of farmlands, programs that support and encourage local farmers, incentives to grow organic food and incubators to help entrepreneurs create new food products and businesses.

Ige did not mention Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co.’s 36,000 acres that are no longer in sugar production in his speech, but in a news briefing following he said that the state is “working with HC&S to keep the lands in agriculture.”

He noted that HC&S, which shut down its sugar operations in December, is looking at several crops, including those that can produce biofuels and be used for cattle grazing.

“So we do have (state) support programs in all of those areas. We are working with HC&S to find food crops that will allow the thousands and thousands of acres to remain in agriculture,” Ige said.

Maui County state Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran, whose district includes the central valley where HC&S’ Puunene Mill once operated and acres of cane once grew, said that the state could purchase agricultural lands in West or Central Maui to add to public lands that could be leased for farming.

He said Ige and the state Department of Agriculture could help “with the processing challenges that smaller farmers face in meeting the new federal standards, some of which require the use of potable water for processing certain kinds of crops.”

Keith-Agaran also said that the state could use the strategy employed in the Galbraith estate lands purchase on Oahu. The state bought more than 1,200 acres of former pineapple fields with some of the land going to the state Agribusiness Development Corp. and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. It was reported that the purchase price was $25 million, with $13 million coming from the state and the rest from other government and private agencies.

House Speaker Joe Souki of Maui said that the governor did not have any surprises in his speech, but was happy that the speech showed support for education, rail on Oahu and making adjustments to the administration’s proposed state budget.

“We need to collaborate to get this done. He’ll have to make some (budget) adjustments, but for the foreseeable future, the economy doesn’t look bad,” said Souki.

Even though the Council on Revenues predicts less tax income for the state in the near future, Souki said the three basic elements of the economy — tourism, military support and construction — are strong right now.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.