Program making homeless management more productive

Confronting Homelessness

It was just over two years ago when the Maui Homeless Alliance started implementing “Housing First.” Many changes had to be made and the process was difficult but well worth it. The Housing First model is proving to be effective in housing those who in the past were unable to be housed.

Previously well-intentioned policies made it very difficult for most people to become successfully housed. With Housing First, the only requirement to move into a home is wanting to live in a home. It has been discovered that getting people into the stable environment of four walls makes it easier for them to change their lives and make the necessary changes to overcome the problems that were causing their homelessness in the first place.

Much of the effectiveness of Housing First can be credited to the implementation of the Diversion Program. This program has made homeless management more intentional and productive by making outreach to the homeless deliberate in identifying those who want to move forward into a permanent home. As the name implies, the program is intended to divert homelessness so that once they are in a home they can continue to live where they are and avoid the trauma of returning to homelessness.

Now when a person is encountered, questions are asked so that those who are ready to stop being homeless are identified — no longer providing a temporary bed to just anyone. The resources are already extremely limited and need to be used for those who want to move forward toward permanent housing and eventual self-sufficiency.

As great as the Diversion Program is, there are people in the community who misunderstand the process. You can’t even imagine how overwhelming it can be for the agencies and departments to receive innumerable calls in regard to one person. It is important to recognize that the case managers are working very hard to identify every person on Maui who is living the homeless lifestyle. So if you see them, I guarantee that the case managers also see them and are doing what they can to get them into a home.

Another thing that is misunderstood is that if you take a person to a shelter, there is no guarantee they will be allowed to stay. Before they can be accepted in the facility, they must agree and be willing to start the process of moving into a permanent home. Resources are extremely limited and are reserved for the people who actually want help. The housing programs are not no-cost hostels or hotel rooms!

This may seem heartless, but I’m sure we can all agree that fruitful outcomes for housing the homeless is necessary and that spending money and time on someone who won’t be helped is just not a productive way to run a housing program. Please call the shelter before you decide to drop someone at the door. It’s likely that the shelter personnel already know them.

The outreach workers on Maui are my heroes. These amazing people spend countless hours seeking out the homeless. They know the names of each person and talk to each individual, trying to convince them to move into a home, if not now, later. They never give up on anyone.

There just isn’t enough time or money to continue the counterproductive methods of the past. It is 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.

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 may never be able to afford to live in a home on their own and will continue to need the help of nonprofits and government agencies.

* 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. To participate, call (808) 242-4900.