It was called the “Plan to End Chronic Homelessness in Hawaii,” a coordinated effort to identify causes of homelessness and to put an end to the problem within 10 years.

Six years after it was completed, the state has more than twice the number of homeless it had when the plan was written and public officials are taking extraordinary steps to take back the parks from squatters.

The plan’s title promised a lot. But its actual contents were not a commitment to action. Gov. Linda Lingle did follow its release with a promise to address the issue and her administration did take a number of steps, however her proposals for funding were received coolly at the Legislature.

Still, it’s clear that homelessness in Hawaii has only worsened. A 2006 federal study identified 15,074 sheltered and unsheltered people in the state, more than double the 6,029 sheltered and unsheltered homeless reported in a 2003 homeless point-in-time survey.

The issue of homelessness “has sadly gone by the wayside with everyone working on education and the economy,” said Laura E. Thielen, a longtime homeless advocate who was part of the team that produced the plan.

The 28-page plan was produced over two years by a working group of homeless advocates and government officials involved with the issue. The title came from an initiative by President George W. Bush’s administration to end chronic homelessness. In January 2005 the state delivered the plan to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.

Some of the plan’s goals have been accomplished, Thielen said, such as developing a database to track information on homeless populations.

But she acknowledged much work remains.

“It was absolutely a worthwhile project, and many people are better off because of it,” said Thielen, who was project coordinator at Kalihi-Palama Health Center at the time of the study.

The plan was prepared by the Hawaii Policy Academy on Chronic Homelessness. The academy was an initiative by the federal departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Veterans Affairs. Hawaii was one of eight states selected for the project. Kentucky and Utah, for example, have similarly worded 10-year plans.

Its purpose was “to plan and develop a comprehensive and integrated system of housing and services for people who are chronically homeless and to provide them with help to achieve their optimal level of health, safety, and well-being.”

“It was getting a group of people to sit down at a table that had never done that before,” said Thielen, who later served as executive director for the Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance and remains an advocate for the homeless. “Many (at that time) thought that they were not involved in the issue of homelessness.”

Thielen pointed to the Hawaii Department of Public Safety, which is responsible for law enforcement in state facilities and management of correctional facilities.

“They quickly realized that they were seeing the same people over and over again, that the issues of homelessness were affecting them,” said Thielen. “For example, they started looking at what kind of programs will help people not go into homelessness after their release from prisons.”

Among the plan’s most important goals was improving data collection and research on the homeless. The Homeless Management Information System created as a result is still in use today. There has also been progress in meeting other goals, such as providing treatment for substance abuse and care for military veterans, advocates say.

But another goal — decreasing barriers to housing by reducing “the stigma of poverty, homelessness, and contributing issues” such as poor credit histories, as the plan put it — is an ongoing concern.

“The real answer is housing, about really having a commitment to low-income housing and SROs (single room occupancy apartments) like at Safe Haven and the planned River Street Project,” said Darlene Hein, director of community services for the Waikiki Health Center and a plan member.

Another plan member, Pamela Menter, sees the pressing need for housing on a daily basis.

Menter is the project director of Safe Haven, a transitional shelter in Chinatown that serves homeless people who are mentally ill. Safe Haven is part of the nonprofit service provider Mental Health Kokua.

“One of the ways the plan was productive is that we are really, really trying hard to expand access to affordable housing and low-income housing, which is such a problem in Hawaii,” said Menter, who is also chairwoman of Partners in Care, a Honolulu continuum-of-care coalition funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “Here at Safe Haven, where we have 25 beds and offer meals and a shower, we’re maxed out. We’ve got a waiting list of 50 people at any given time.”

Hein suggested it may be time for a new plan, one that brings together city, county, state and federal officials as well as nonprofits and business.

“For a lot of providers like us, we’re just swamped, so it is hard for us in the group to take that on,” said Hein. “We need the whole community involved, and the political will. What providers can do is help policymakers understand what really works, like housing, to find a pathway. So much is hurled at them, but they want to hear what works.”

Sandra Miyoshi, administrator of the Homeless Programs Section in the state’s Hawaii Public Housing Authority and a key member of the 2004 plan, did not return Civil Beat’s calls for comment.

The same year the report was released, Gov. Linda Lingle formally announced her administration’s commitment to addressing the issue.

At a press conference in January 2005, Lingle said the plan pointed out that the top reasons people become homeless are because of family conflicts and inability to pay rent, The Honolulu Advertiser reported. Lingle said her administration would focus on rehabilitating public housing facilities, though the governor acknowledged that affordable housing is a separate issue.

The state sought funding for emergency shelters, and by early 2006 it secured use of a warehouse in Kakaako as a shelter for 200 people. It opened the same week Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann ordered the evacuation of homeless people from Ala Moana Beach Park.

Many park users went to the shelter, called the Next Step Project, located less than a mile from the park.

Thielen calls the transitional shelter a “doubled-edged sword,” however.

“It’s bittersweet for me, because so many people have moved out of the shelter since then and on to success,” she said. “But the flip side is that Next Step was supposed to be open for only eight months. It’s now been four years.”

During that time, the Legislature has declined requests from Lingle to fund the building of a permanent shelter. Meantime, homeless people have moved back into Ala Moana, and the city has passed laws and implemented rules designed to move them out of the parks.

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