Gov. David Ige announced Monday that Scott Morishige will be his next coordinator on homelessness, while a legislative leader raised the possibility of emergency state funding to address the problem.

Morishige, who starts Aug. 24, has been one of Hawaii’s leading voices advocating for homeless people as the executive director of the social service organization PHOCUSED.

“He brings a wealth of experience … He’s been very much involved with the data collection, coordination of services, and he’ll definitely be able to hit the ground running and really allow us to move forward with the homelessness issue,” Ige said. “We’re very delighted that he has accepted our offer and will be joining the team.”

Left, Senator Brian Schatz, Rep Scott Saiki, Senator Jill Tokuda, Governor Ige and right Mayor Kirk Caldwell during homeless press conference announcing Scott Morishige as State Homeless Chair. 10 aug 2015.  photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, left, joins the meeting of Gov. David Ige’s homelessness leadership team Monday.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Morishige’s post — statutorily created to oversee the state’s homelessness response system — has been vacant since the end of July, when Ige decided not to extend a contract to Colin Kippen, who was appointed by former Gov. Neil Abercrombie in 2012.

Ige said he’s expanding the post’s footprint, pledging that he’ll have up to three people working alongside Morishige to “make sure that we can implement the programs and ideas that the leadership team comes up with.” Kippen, by contrast, had a single assistant.

Morishige has wide-ranging experiences in Hawaii’s nonprofit sector. Before taking the helm of PHOCUSED two years ago, he oversaw the community stabilization initiative at the Hawaii Community Foundation, helping local families cope with economic struggles and avoid becoming homeless. He’s also had stints at Helping Hands Hawaii, Salvation Army, Alu Like and Legal Aid Society of Hawaii.

Scott Morishige

“I am excited to join the governor and his leadership team to address homelessness, which is one of the most complex issues facing our state,” Morishige said in a statement. “This is an opportunity to build upon the great work of service providers and collaboratively work together with them and other stakeholders to identify and implement effective solutions.”

The announcement of Morishige’s appointment came after the third weekly meeting of Ige’s leadership team — which was attended by U.S. Sen. Brain Schatz.

Schatz said he’s talked about Hawaii’s homelessness with top officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“HUD has had great success nationally in urban areas … but Hawaii is different. We haven’t seen the same statistical progress that they’ve been able to make in other cities, so we need their expertise and we need their engagement,” Schatz said. “Obviously based on results, we can’t use the mainland playbook, but that’s not to say that they don’t have the expertise that we should listen to. And they certain have the revenue streams that we ought to pay attention to.”

Ige said the high cost of developing housing is what’s making homelessness “challenging and complex” in Hawaii, but his team has conducted a survey of existing shelters in an effort to find untapped resources. “We’re working to maximize the use of existing providers’ spaces. We’re looking at maybe rejiggering and rearranging some of that.”

Once the plan is in place, Ige said his team has the financial support of legislative leaders to move forward.

State Sen. Jill Tokuda said that could include up to $5 million in emergency funds — spending that could precede its appropriation by the Legislature.

“We’re looking at what resources could be immediately put to bear so that that is not going be the barrier to making sure the solutions can be put into place,” Tokuda said.

About the Author