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Hundreds of Maui homeless housed during the pandemic

Confronting Homelessness

It is amazing how many homeless have been housed during this pandemic. Even though Maui was on shutdown, the recent data shows that the case management agencies of the Maui Homeless Alliance did not shutdown and have continued to work tirelessly through these difficult times, and while doing so have successfully housed 358 people from January through May. This data is found at www.hawaiihomelessprogramshmis.org/reports-publications/hmis-exit-data-reports/.

Contrary to circulating rumors, Housing First works! It was only a few years ago when Maui County, Department of Housing and Human Concerns, alongside the Maui Homeless Alliance, started the training process for the implementation of Housing First. Not everyone was convinced that this was the correct move but as the numbers show, it was! It is this type of data and results that should be the rationale behind government decisions when it comes to the current system of care. 

Prior to “Housing First,” great efforts were made by many good-hearted, smart people and organizations who would do everything they could to alleviate the suffering of the homeless by spending all their resources on immediate and emergency needs. These efforts were all well-intentioned but they didn’t end homelessness. The problem was that an environment was created that managed homelessness and the constant emergencies that would arise. This made it possible for people to continue living their homeless lifestyle in a somewhat comfortable manner. It was all driven by compassion but it did nothing to end homelessness. Instead of alleviating the problem, it became apparent that this method may have become a contributor to the growing homeless population.   

Not long ago, I was talking to Lulu (not her real name). Lulu is someone who was recently moved into a home after living most of her adult life without a house. When I saw her I offended her by calling her Auntie; I mistakenly thought that she was in her late seventies. She is actually in her mid-fifties and much younger than I am. How dare I call her Auntie! Her past homeless lifestyle aged her far beyond her years. Not only had it aged her, but when she was unsheltered, she developed numerous health issues and suffered from repeated abuse. Over those years, she lived in a variety of environments that included beach communities, tent cities, and sidewalk societies. None of these living arrangements kept her safe or healthy. It is important to remember that the homeless lifestyle is a dangerous and unhealthy way to live. The only answer for Lulu and others like her is to get off the streets and into a safe home that provides four walls with a door that locks.

Homeless care today is very different and far more effective than it was in the past. Instead of managing the homeless lifestyle, the housing agencies of the Maui Homeless Alliance concentrate on moving from homelessness into a safe home environment. Then after they are in the safety of a secure home, that is when services can be effectively delivered with regularity so that their mental and physical health has the opportunity to stabilize and be restored.

To repeat the good news, from January to May of this year, 358 people were moved into safe homes and shelters. This data is noteworthy and should be shouted from the housetops. To those who believe that the current system is not working or not moving fast enough, please show the evidence of your results. People can say anything they want but it is data that shows the outcomes. 

It is evident that the homeless are not thriving, and that the rest of the community suffers right alongside them. This fact makes it extremely important that we recognize and learn from the current successes and past mistakes, so that we can continue to move forward while being careful not to go back to the past, unproductive methods.   

* 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 the month. 

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