For all he knows, Colin Kippen will be out of his job in two weeks.

Since June 2012, Kippen has served as the governor’s coordinator on homelessness, a job overseeing Hawaii’s homelessness response system.

An appointee of former Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Kippen has remained in his post under the new administration — but only on an interim basis. Gov. David Ige first approached Kippen in November, asking him to stay on through the end of last year. In late December, Ige extended the offer for another six months.

Kippen hasn’t heard whether he should bother showing up for work July 1.

Colin Kippen and Neil Abercrombie

Former Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed Colin Kippen to serve as the governor’s coordinator on homelessness in June 2012.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

Ige, who is in Japan this week, was not available for comment. “Both the governor and chief of staff are traveling in Japan, and they have not been able to respond,” said Cindy McMillan, the governor’s communications director.

“I have no idea where we’re at at this point,” said Kippen, who previously served as the executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Indian Education Association and also led the Native Hawaiian Education Council. “I’m just taking it one day at a time.”

Building a Database of the Homeless

By any measure, Kippen’s job is a daunting one: He’s been tasked to tackle homelessness — one of Hawaii’s seemingly intractable issues — without so much as an operating budget.

Housed under the Hawaii Department of Human Services, Kippen’s post affords him one assistant, and he pays his own way when he travels to conferences and visits the mainland to study other cities’ approaches.

But Kippen has been teamed up with the Hawaii Interagency Council on Homelessness, a statutorily created task force that brings together governmental agencies and service providers.

Under Kippen, who chairs the task force, the group has been following the national best practices and developing a new system for driving down the state’s homeless rate.

“We’re in a situation where we’ve changed the system and are finally getting everybody to fall in line, and then here we are: We’re not sure if Colin’s coming back.” — Rep. Jo Jordan

At the heart of the new system is a set of two databases.

The first is built off of an intake assessment tool, known as VI-SPDAT — the Vulnerability Index and Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool. It assesses the needs of homeless people and the level of services required — and assigns a ranking.

The second sorts through all of the available services and housing, including an array of city, state and federal programs, as well as private housing options.

The thinking is that, by combining the two databases, homeless people can be matched up with appropriate services or housing — based on the ranking.

So far, more than 3,400 people have been assessed through this system.

“For the first time ever, we’ve got a systemic response to homelessness that’s backed up by data and information,” Kippen said. “We would never have been able to set a goal of ending veteran homelessness this year without the work we did. We would never have been able to set a goal, and measure ourselves against that goal, for tackling chronic homelessness.”

State Rep. Jo Jordan, vice chair of the Housing Committee and a member of the task force, is concerned that the momentum building behind this work could be lost if Kippen were to depart.

“We’re in a situation where we’ve changed the system and are finally getting everybody to fall in line, and then here we are: We’re not sure if Colin’s coming back,” Jordan said. “This is how you start losing steam — that’s my concern.”

Jordan says she was concerned enough that she had a talk recently with the governor’s chief of staff, Mike McCartney, about the issue.

“I know the governor has a lot of appointments and positions he must fill. He wants to build a team that he can trust. I totally understand all that,” Jordan said. “But I have been nothing but impressed by what Colin has done. He’s put his whole heart and soul into his job. It’d be a shame to lose him.”

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