Data shows that housing is available for Maui’s unsheltered

Confronting Homelessness

It was only a few years ago when the Maui County Department of Housing and Human Concerns (DHHC), alongside the Maui Homeless Alliance, started the training process for the implementation of Housing First. Housing First was innovative and new to us.

Heading in this direction required a complete paradigm shift that took a great deal of training and modifications to the current housing programs and mindsets. Not an easy task.

An essential element of Housing First is called the Coordinated Entry System (CES,) which is managed by David Nakama, the homeless coordinator of the DHHC. Housing First requires that the housing programs that receive government funding make timely reports to CES as well as to another important component of Housing First, the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). This data collection makes it possible to track how many housing units are available at any given time.

Last week, the most current CES report was released. This report verifies that there are currently enough housing resources available for all who are living unsheltered on Maui. I repeat — the data is showing that there are housing services available on Maui for all of our chronically homeless. The housing that is available is specifically dedicated for the unsheltered and paid for by funds provided by the county, state and federal governments, as well as private donors.

This is not the same housing stream as affordable housing. We can all agree that more affordable housing is needed on Maui, but those who are living on the streets are not the ones who will occupy affordable housing.

While talking to LoriAnn Tsuhako, DHHC director, it became apparent to me that Maui County and the DHHC clearly want only the best for every resident on Maui and, because of this, continue to communicate that homelessness is not illegal and should not be criminalized. But with that being said, the department will not advocate or do anything that will encourage or prolong anyone living an unsheltered lifestyle.

It is evident that the homeless are not thriving, and that the rest of the community suffers right alongside them. This fact makes it vitally important that we acknowledge our successes and learn while we continue to move forward with our Housing First efforts.

When we started working toward Housing First, many of us in the Homeless Alliance were hopeful but unsure if the changes would actually make any difference. All we knew was that our current methods were not working and that we needed to try something new if we wanted to see change.

Last week at the Maui Homeless Alliance meeting, I heard Maude Cumming, the executive director of Family Life Center say, “In my lifetime I want to see homelessness eliminated on Maui.” What a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)! What I find exciting about this statement is that with Housing First, our progress over the last three years is showing that we are moving in the right direction.

I recently received the amazing news that the gentleman living at one of the more prominent encampments in Kahului has been provided a permanent home. What surprised me was that there was only one person living at that encampment. Evidence shows that there aren’t as many people on the streets as it appears. From Kahului industrial area up through Queen Ka’ahumanu Center, there are only about 35 unsheltered street people, and the outreach workers know each and every one of them by name.

Having the CES data has given me the assurance that housing is available, so when I talked to unsheltered friends this last week, I asked each one, “Do you want to live in a home?” Three of them replied yes! With confidence, I was able to give them information that would help them move into that wanted home.

* Joyce Kawakami is a full-time volunteer and 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.