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Statewide survey finds a slight decrease in Maui homeless people

Valley Isle’s decline lowest in state, which had overall 9.6% drop in homeless population

A homeless man sits by the roadside in Kahului with his belongings in a shopping cart in August. In 2018, there was a slight, 2.6 percent reduction in homeless people on Maui, according to the 2018 Hawaii Statewide Point in Time Count survey released Monday. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Overall, Maui is seeing a slight decline in homeless individuals, down 2.6 percent to 873 people this year compared with 896 last year.

The Valley Isle’s reduction of homeless numbers is the lowest decline in the state, according to the 2018 Hawaii Statewide Point in Time Count survey released Monday.

Kauai had the highest decrease of homeless individuals at 28.9 percent, followed by Oahu at 9.4 percent then Hawaii island at 8.8 percent.

Overall, the survey found the state had 9.6 percent overall drop in homeless individuals — 6,530, down from 7,220 in 2017.

It was the second consecutive decrease in homeless numbers in the statewide count.

The survey was done the week of Jan. 22. The data are part of local and national planning that inform public policy and resource allocations, according to the report.

“This report shows that the gains we made last year are continuing to solidify, and that the tide is definitely starting to turn on homelessness in Hawaii,” said Brandee Menino, chairwoman of Bridging the Gap and chief executive officer of Hope Services Hawaii. Those groups released the report during a news conference Monday on Oahu.

“This is a continuing trend, not a one-time thing,” she said.

In 2017, the state saw a 9 percent decrease of homeless individuals over 2016. And, in 2017 on Maui, the survey found a 22 percent drop in homelessness — a decline from 1,145 individuals in 2016 to 896 in 2017.

Menino said that although strides are being made to addressing homelessness, commitments need to be kept to maintain progress.

The Statewide Point in Time Count report identifies the amount of homeless individuals and families counted during a single week and helps to inform the strategy and planning efforts of Partners in Care and Bridging the Gap. The two make up Continua of Care, a local planning body designed to promote a broad-based community commitment to end homelessness.

Even though Maui did not make big decreases this year in numbers of homeless individuals as compared with last year or with other islands, Maui County’s Homeless Program coordinator, David Nakama, said that any decrease in the homeless count is “great news.”

“These positive results are due to the hard work and dedication of the homeless service providers in our community,” he said.

Since the county’s inception of the Coordinated Entry System that embraces a “Housing First” approach, the focus has been on placing the chronically homeless population in permanent supportive housing, Nakama said.

The chronically homeless put the greatest demands on available social service resources, he added.

“Statistics prove that housing the most vulnerable population, the chronically homeless, is a lot less burdensome to the taxpayer dollar than managing their homelessness,” he said.

As far as Maui having the least amount of decline in homeless individuals, Nakama said Maui’s homeless demographics are different from other islands. The Valley Isle sees a significantly greater amount of transient people who oftentimes are mistaken as being homeless, he said.

The report said the overall state homeless decrease was fueled by an 8.6 percent drop in unsheltered people to 3,475 persons in the state, compared with 3,800 in 2017.

On Maui, unsheltered people declined 5.4 percent, down to 474 compared with 501 in 2017.

The report also notes a slight uptick of 1 percent more sheltered homeless people on Maui, with 399 individuals compared with 395 in 2017.

Nakama said it’s “good news” that more homeless people are using shelters, as a result of the county’s “Compassionate Responses.”

Known as “sweeps” in other municipalities, Maui’s responses include outreach efforts and a constant offer of services to people who are hesitant to accept help prior to the vacate date, Nakama added.

Overall, the report attributes Maui’s slight decline in overall homelessness to:

• An infusion of state funding, especially the Housing First program and Rapid Re-Housing funds.

• A continued slow release of Section 8 vouchers and changes in regulations that allowed for room rentals using a voucher.

• An ongoing implementation of the Housing First approach, including organizational and cultural changes to reflect a harm reduction, low-barrier focus.

• In total, service agencies and county government assisted 555 individuals in accessing permanent housing.

In Maui, the count showed the highest number of unsheltered homeless people as being in Central Maui with 173, down from 215 in 2017. Next was Lahaina with 129 individuals, up from 104 last year. It was followed by Kihei at 104, down from 129 last year.

Other areas include Upcountry with 48 unsheltered homeless individuals, the same amount as last year, along with 19 unsheltered homeless individuals in Lower Waiehu. Hana continued to have one unsheltered homeless individual, the same as last year.

Statewide, 2,399 individuals in families were counted as homeless, including 148 families living unsheltered. This is a 10.6 percent decrease of total people in homeless families from 2017.

The total number of sheltered and unsheltered homeless veterans statewide decreased 13.5 percent to 532 from 615 in 2017.

The report recommended community solutions to address homelessness. These included: 

• A housing-focused, coordinated entry system that ensures people most in need of assistance receive it in a timely manner.

• Expand short-, medium- and long-term rapid housing programs.

• Increase permanent, supportive housing programs.

• Build and acquire affordable housing.

• Avoid criminalization of individuals experiencing homelessness.

Monday’s event on Oahu was held in partnership with the state, City & County of Honolulu, the state Department of Housing and Urban Development and others.

The 2018 Hawaii Statewide Point in Time report can be found on Gov. David Ige’s website at governor.hawaii.gov.

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

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