Homelessness is a national issue with far-reaching consequences to society, which are not only financial, but primarily social in nature.

On Oahu we see issues of homelessness on the daily news illustrating the temporary fixes which cost taxpayers millions of dollars, while criminalizing Hawaii’s most vulnerable.

The true issue is that of the social welfare of human beings, not dollars and cents. Isn’t it time to treat the homeless population as citizenry rather than a costly nuisance?

Tents under the H1 overpass, along Harding Avenue. homeless tents. 16 july 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

If it truly employs the Housing First model, Oahu can make huge strides in solving the homelessness problem.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Hawaii has seen a 35 percent rise in the homeless population since 2009 and a 4 percent increase over the last year, despite costly temporary fixes. Nearly one-third of homeless are Native Hawaiians, yet they sleep in tent cities, are criminalized, and cast to the side by their brothers.

Contrary to widely politicized public opinion, the homeless population does not consist of “lazy bums and criminals that don’t want to work,” but more is accurately depicted by the Department of Human Services Homeless Division as one-third minors, of which 50 percent are under the age of 6; of the adults, 60 percent are severely mentally ill, 47 percent without a high school education, 40 percent unsheltered, 34 percent chronically homeless, 12 percent veterans, and 8 percent chronic substance abusers.

This paints a very different picture than that of the Waikiki business owners who pushed for the no-sit, no-lie ban that unconstitutionally criminalizes an individual’s circumstance. To put it plainly, this is offensive; members of this at-risk population deserve permanent solutions to the issues that plague them, starting with a permanent address.

Recently Hawaii ranked No. 1 in the United States with the number of homeless per capita, and with the numbers steadily rising the state cannot afford to make costly mistakes. The solutions to this issue will not come from the Sand Island project, the renovation of retired buses, or transit-oriented development promised by the rail project, but rather from stable permanent housing first.

Utah, as a prime example, has decreased the chronically homeless population by 91 percent with a steadfast 10-year plan that worked. It took dedication to acquiring permanent housing solutions, different social services that the homeless could choose from, and a compassionate community that saw past the unappealing exterior and saw the heart inside the human.

Until we as a society stop viewing these unconventional solutions as hand-outs and begin to see them as investments in our future, which yield high social and economic returns, the perpetual revolving door of homelessness on Oahu will continue.

The solution is not rocket science. By using the Housing First model in its truest form, Utah reports it has virtually ended chronic homelessness while reducing the annual cost from $19,000 to just under $8,000 annually per homeless individual. Providing permanent housing solutions for this under-served population has not only had positive fiscal impacts, but also utilized strong tactics to rebuild trust and compassion with the affected communities.

This was achieved through raising awareness of the actual causation of chronic homelessness: loss of income, lack of affordable housing, domestic abuse and mental illness. Thus proving that most individuals do not choose to be homeless, and when given the chance, were able to become self-sufficient, positive, productive members of society.

Oahu could see similar results through a more effective approach using the Housing First model. Currently Honolulu has $1.2 million dollars allocated for Housing First-specific programs and $32 million for general homeless-specific programs.

The Sand Island project alone equals $1.35 million in initial and first-year startup costs, with subsequent annual operational costs estimated at $850,000. The project was proposed and funded under the Housing First modelm yet does not provide permanent unconditional housing, nor does it guarantee it upon the completion of the 60 days allotted to recipients.

In order for the transitional housing facility to be effective, there must be permanent non-conditional housing available upon completion; by using money from the general homeless fund to secure contracts for new developments, the Sand Island project could transition recipients to permanent homes.

Lastly, as Utah has demonstrated, the raising of awareness in communities regarding to their most vulnerable was a key component to its success. By campaigning for the homeless, instead of against them, Utah was able to reduce the stigma attached to homeless individuals and instigate new-found compassion from communities.

The residents of Oahu generally see the homeless as a nuisance, finding no value in their presence on the island. Homelessness must be humanized and brought directly into the homes of citizens through public outreach. The homeless must be seen as part of the citizenry and not just a costly annoyance.

Thus, proper use of funding allowed through the general homeless fund and the Housing First fund, could potentially eliminate chronic homelessness on Oahu and bring a heightened awareness to the need for compassion toward all individuals, in particular the homeless.

Isn’t it time to stop the madness?

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