Work continues in fight against homelessness

Our County

A recent count of homeless people found 862 people living on the streets or in shelters in Maui County on Jan. 22. That represented a 1 percent reduction in homelessness (down from 873 to 862) from the 2018 Homeless Point-in-Time Count.

While such a decline is a small step in the right direction, our goal in Maui County is to get the number of homeless, or unsheltered, people down to zero, as unrealistic as that might sound.

Encouragingly, homelessness in Maui is down a bit for the third year in a row, and family homelessness has declined 9 percent (down from 99 to 90 families since 2018). Homelessness among veterans has declined by 25 percent (down from 62 last year to 46 veterans this year).

The County of Maui Homeless Program Division is dedicated to ending homelessness in our community. The division administers the Homeless Coordinated Entry System, a data-driven program that systematically addresses the most chronically homeless by quickly connecting them to the appropriate housing resource and services by priority of need. The system is the operational arm of the Housing First Initiative. That is an evidence-based practice guided by the principle that it empowers homeless individuals and families to get out of unsheltered situations and into housing as quickly as possible. Obtaining shelter enables them to address other pressing needs, like addictions and mental illness.

Secondly, the Homeless Program Division is the point of contact for various departments and partnering agencies in efforts to address illegal homeless encampments and other problem homeless “hot spots.” This work is done with a focus on compassion for people who’ve fallen on hard times. Outreach workers offer homeless people needed services to get them on their feet. Meanwhile, the general public is assured that safety and hygiene need are addressed as well.

The overall objective is to have homelessness in Maui County be a rare, brief and nonrecurring event. Homelessness will never end if we tolerate it or become intolerant of people who live on the streets or beaches.

I am very grateful for the efforts of dozens of highly dedicated social service workers, Maui Police Department officers and employees with the county Department of Public Works, among others. They work tirelessly to reduce homelessness in our county. If it were not for their service, Maui’s homeless situation would be much worse than it is today.

Meanwhile, we need to continue our work to develop attainable housing. Statistics from the Realtors Association of Maui continue to show that housing is far beyond the reach of most residents. In the first quarter of this year, the median sales price of a single-family home was $735,000, up 7.7 percent from the first quarter of last year. The median price of a condominium in Maui County was $525,000, up 10.2 percent.

The association’s housing affordability index was 47 for single-family homes and 66 for condominiums, meaning that the median household income in Maui County earns only 47 and 66 percent of what’s necessary to qualify for a median-priced home or condo, respectively, under prevailing rates.

No doubt we have much work to do to generate more attainable housing and fight homelessness, but I’m confident that by working together collaboratively we can make progress to keep Maui no ka oi for everyone.

Finally, in the spirit of community service, I ask residents to consider submitting an application to serve on one of Maui County’s many boards and commissions. Now, for example, we are in need of a Molokai representative on the Liquor Control Commission.

Anyone interested in serving on a board or commission may apply online at Paper applications are available at the Kalana O Maui Building in the Mayor’s Office on the ninth floor, and in the Information Booth in the main lobby; at all public libraries; at Council Services office on Molokai and Lanai and in Hana; and at all Department of Parks and Recreation permit offices. Paper applications should be mailed to: Mayor Michael Victorino, County of Maui, 200 S. High St., ninth floor, Wailuku 96793, or faxed to (808) 270-7870.

For more information on applications to boards and commissions, call 270-8211.

* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, discusses county issues and activities of county government. The column usually appears on the first and third Fridays of the month.­