Armed with $12 million in supplemental funding to stem the state’s homeless crisis, Gov. David Ige unveiled a four-year plan Thursday that aims to reduce the number of unsheltered homeless people to “functional zero.”
Under the plan, the Ige administration will steer the state’s resources into what it calls “three levers of change” — developing affordable housing, providing social services and maintaining safety in public spaces through enforcement.
“We see homelessness every day around our communities; it has reached each and every community,” Ige said. “And this plan does respond and provide services across the state.”
According to a “point-in-time” count released last month, the state’s homeless population has been steadily rising during the past five years — a 28 percent jump to 7,921 in January.
Much of the increase came among unsheltered homeless people, jumping from 2,556 in 2011 to 4,308 in 2016, accounting for 54 percent of the overall homeless population.
The Ige administration’s plan calls for the number to be reduced — within four years — to “functional zero,” a point at which the state has sufficient capacity to house any newly homeless individuals in less than 90 days.
The plan is to achieve the goal by tapping into capital improvement funds to build 10,000 affordable housing units by 2020.
“You can’t end homelessness without providing people homes,” said Scott Morishige, the governor’s coordinator on homelessness.
The Ige administration also plans to use nearly $9.5 million of the $12 million allocated by the Legislature to expand existing social service programs to get more people placed into permanent housing.
Under the plan, $3 million will go to expand Housing First, a program that prioritizes placing people into permanent housing first and follows up with supportive services later.
Another $3 million will boost the rapid rehousing program, which uses “shallow subsidies” — typically $150 to $500 a month — to quickly place homeless people back into housing.
And an outreach budget will see an increase of $2 million, with $300,000 earmarked specifically for reaching out to the homeless youth.
The programs’ “common goal is to get people into housing as quickly as possible — and not only get them into housing but provide them with the right level of support, so they can maintain that housing,” Morishige said.
The Ige administration’s plan also sets aside nearly $2 million for the enforcement efforts.
In January, when he submitted his supplemental budget proposal to the Legislature, Ige had envisioned the Hawaii Department of Transportation having two maintenance crews to conduct homeless sweeps statewide on “a year-round, daily basis.”
But the Ige administration now plans to spend about $1.5 million to work with private contractors to sweep state lands controlled by the Hawaii Community Development Authority, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Department of Transportation.
A portion of the funds will go to store personal property left behind by homeless people, and another $450,000 will be used to have sheriff’s deputies assist in the sweeps.
Morishige emphasized that the enforcement efforts are only one part of a comprehensive plan.
“It’s not enough for us to press on any of these ‘levers’ alone. We need to really focus on all three of these areas simultaneously,” Morishige said. “It’s not enough for us to just build housing without providing services for people to maintain their housing over time. Also, it’s not enough for us just to invest in services without providing housing inventory for people to go to. And we cannot just have enforcement response. That would just move individuals from one area of an island to another.”