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Neighbor Island homelessness up slightly

Count shows decline in Maui’s sheltered homeless population but increase in unsheltered folks

A makeshift homeless camp is seen in Kahului in 2020. According to a 2022 point-in-time count by Bridging the Gap, a coalition of agencies working to end homelessness on Neighbor Islands, the number of unsheltered individuals on Maui has increased since 2020 while the number of sheltered homeless individuals dipped to the lowest level it’s been in five years. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

Maui’s sheltered homeless population is at the lowest level it’s ever been over the past five years while the number of unsheltered folks continues to rise, according to Bridging the Gap, a coalition of agencies working to end homelessness on Neighbor Islands.

The coalition’s one-day 2022 Homeless Point-in-Time Count, which took place during the week of Jan. 23, shows that Maui’s homeless population totaled an estimated 741 sheltered and unsheltered folks, a slow decline since 2018’s count at 873 and 2016’s count of 1,145.

Bridging the Gap, which has a chapter in the counties of Maui, Hawaii and Kauai, presented the results of its latest count last week.

Overall, homelessness on Maui, Lanai, Molokai, Hawaii island and Kauai combined experienced a slight increase of less than 1 percent, from 2,010 persons in 2020 to 2,022 persons in 2022 — 745 were considered chronically homeless. The 12-person increase may be attributed to overall increases in the counties of Hawaii and Kauai, with Maui experiencing a net decrease, the report said.

“While our total homelessness data relatively remained the same, there is still much work to do,” said Bridging the Gap Chairperson Maude Cumming, executive director of the Family Life Center on Maui. “We need to continue to invest in affordable housing, including strengthening landlord incentives like sign-up bonuses, and financial protections for repair costs of tenant-caused property damage.”

Shopping carts hold belongings in 2019 in Kahului

The annual count includes anyone who slept on the street, in a car or in other areas not meant for human habitation. Bridging the Gap did not conduct an unsheltered count in 2021 and received an exemption from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Volunteers canvassed parks, beaches and other areas on Maui asking individuals where they slept on Jan. 23, but this year, two additional questions were asked relating to the length of time individuals had been in Hawaii and their primary cause of homelessness.

“While the Point-in-Time Count does not capture every person experiencing homelessness, it provides a one-night snapshot of homelessness in Hawaii,” according to Bridging the Gap. “The data collected is compared county to county and year to year, to help stakeholders understand homelessness in their districts.”

Among the 741 homeless folks on Maui, there are 305 living in shelters, which is an ongoing decline from the 346 and 375 reported during the pandemic years of 2021 and 2020, respectively. There were 420 counted in 2019 and 399 reported in 2018.

Some of the recent decline in sheltered people could be due to shelters or emergency housing capacities being reduced to meet COVID-19 social distancing requirements, according to the report.

“We anticipate that the COVID social distancing requirements will be reduced over the coming year, which would then allow emergency shelters to return to full capacity,” Bridging the Gap said. “This will allow for more individuals to access shelter services, thereby reducing the numbers of unsheltered.”

Meanwhile, the unsheltered population increased to 436 in 2022 from 414 reported in 2020, but dropped slightly compared to 2019 at 442 people. Central Maui saw the largest unsheltered homeless population (160) in the 2022 count, followed by Lahaina (157), and then Upcountry and Kihei (56 each).

Among Maui’s total homeless population, 214 were reported experiencing chronic substance use disorders while 237 suffer from a serious mental illness.

Some of the positive results, though, include a reduction in the total number of homeless veterans, which decreased by 33 percent, from 48 veterans in 2020 to 32 veterans in 2022. Bridging the Gap noted that a large part of this success can be attributed to HUD’s Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program, which assists eligible veterans with housing vouchers.

Family homelessness also saw a 24 percent decline, from 83 families reported in 2020 to 63 families in 2022, possibly due to Maui County’s efforts in new affordable family housing projects, such as Kaiwahine Villages, Kenolio Apartments and the Ohana zones Huliau project, the report said.

In addition, the newly created HUD Emergency Housing Voucher program provided long-term rental subsidies for family households.

Breaking the survey down by county, Kauai and Hawaii island had a 5 percent increase in total homelessness, while Maui declined 6 percent overall.

Those living unsheltered rose in all three counties, with Maui up 5 percent, Hawaii island up 6 percent and Kauai up 9 percent. The count of sheltered homeless persons living in emergency or transitional facilities decreased 1 percent from 636 to 628 persons, with decreases found on both Maui and Kauai compared to 2021.

An assessment of the type of people experiencing homelessness this year found that of the 2,022 total one-day count, 72 percent (1,461) were individuals, meaning people in households (single or multiple adults) without any children under the age of 18.

Among homeless households without children, the majority were white (502), followed by Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander (352), Asian (115), Black or African American (43) and American Indian or Alaska Native (30). A total of 419 were classified as being multiple races.

There were a total of 151 families considered homeless, including 52 families (170 persons) that were living unsheltered and 99 families living in shelters, including 73 in emergency shelters and 26 in transitional housing. This encompassed 391 total persons within those sheltered families, including 228 children and 163 adults.

The number of families living in shelters was down from 108 in 2021 and 117 in 2020. The largest decline in sheltered family homelessness was on Maui, which decreased by 21 families relative to 2021.

Among homeless households with at least one adult and one child, 264 were Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, 76 were white, 16 were Black or African American, 11 were Asian and four were American Indian or Alaskan Native. A total of 190 were classified as being multiple races.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused a variety of financial burdens on families and individuals, Bridging the Gap said that more than $93 million dollars in financial assistance has been distributed by a network of nonprofits to help with rent, utilities and mortgage assistance.

Though there are county, state and federal initiatives to reduce homelessness, officials continue to recommend improvements to the overall implementation of the count, such as planning, supervision and the training of count staff and volunteers, as well as the handling and verification of all survey forms and electronic data.

“Encouraging data indicate that efforts to end family and veteran homelessness are taking hold in communities, however, contrasting data also shows that there is still much work to be done,” according to the report.

To learn more about the work of Bridging the Gap, contact Cumming at maude@flcmaui.org.

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

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