At the end of June, there were 376 homeless veterans on Oahu, including 129 who were unsheltered, according to Scott Morishige, executive director of the homeless advocacy group PHOCUSED, which helps analyze the state’s Homeless Management Information System database.
This is why Robert McDonald, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, is in Honolulu this week, lending his hands in Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s “Heroes Helping Heroes.”
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald urged local landlords and property managers to support the effort to house homeless veterans.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
McDonald told about 70 area landlords and property managers gathered Thursday at Mission Memorial Auditorium that the state needs their help in doing its part to meet the national goal of housing all homeless veterans.
“Eliminating homelessness in this country is a team sport,” McDonald said. “It can’t be done by the city alone. It can’t be done by the state alone. It can’t be done by the federal government alone. It can’t be done by the private sector alone. It’s got to be done by all of us working together.”
It’s not that Hawaii hasn’t made some progress. According to PHOCUSED, 368 homeless veterans on Oahu were placed into permanent housing from Jan. 1 to May 31.
But, to eliminate veteran homelessness altogether, 129 unsheltered homeless veterans, as well as 247 people who are now temporarily housed — at homeless shelters or elsewhere — will also have to be placed into permanent housing.
Two federal programs to aid the effort aren’t working as well as expected in Hawaii.
One is HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing, a program that combines rental assistance — in the form of Section 8 vouchers — with case management and clinical services provided by the VA.
The other is Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program, which helps pay such expenses as deposits, rents for up to five months, utility assistance and case management for homeless veterans — or those who are at risk of being homeless.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald told about 70 landlords and property managers gathered at Mission Memorial Auditorium that their help is needed in ending veteran homelessness.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
From Jan. 1 to May 31, the HUD-VASH has helped only 45 homeless veterans on Oahu, and an additional 78 people have been assisted through the SSVS, according to PHOCUSED.
As Civil Beat has reported, in Hawaii’s tight rental market, the programs are missing the main ingredient — available housing. Currently, nearly 100 veterans are holding HUD-VASH vouchers but are unable to use them because they can’t find a place to rent.
“We’re doing the best we can; however, we still have a great need for more landlords to help out in our efforts,” said Andrew Dahlburg, manager of the VA Pacific Islands Health Care System’s Healthcare for Homeless Veterans Program.
McDonald told his audience at Mission Memorial that the department will provide case management services to any landlords willing to help out the veterans — and that he’d make sure no red tape will get in the way.
“If we need to change the law, then we’ll go to Congress and change the law,” he said.
Speaking to reporters after the event, McDonald acknowledged the challenge facing Hawaii.
“I’d like to say that our veterans are not stupid. They know that, if they were to become homeless, they want to become homeless in Hawaii or Los Angeles or San Diego — not in Chicago in the middle of the winter,” he said.
But McDonald said he’s confident that Hawaii will ultimately be successful in curbing homelessness among veterans.
“When the communities come together … things happen — and they happen at a very precipitous pace, so I’m optimistic,” he said.
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