Hawaii saw a 9.6 percent decrease in its homeless population as compared to a year ago, according to a survey released Monday.

The state’s homeless population was measured at 6,530 during the week of Jan. 22, when volunteers conducted an annual survey known as the “point in time” count. That’s 690 fewer people than last year’s count of 7,220.

Statewide, the homeless population peaked at 7,921 in 2016 and began decreasing last year after the numbers relentlessly rose for seven consecutive years.

Kauai saw the largest decrease at 28.9 percent – from 412 in 2017 to 293 in 2018.

And Oahu also saw a decline in its homeless population of nearly 9.4 percent, from 4,959 last year to 4,495. It was Oahu’s first decrease in almost six years.

While not exact, the count gives policymakers and service providers an indication of where resources are needed.

Partners in Care, a coalition of homeless service providers on Oahu, conducted the survey on Oahu and its counterpart Bridging the Gap did so for neighbor islands.

Heather Lusk of Partners in Care attributed the decrease to collaboration among service providers and government, an increase in housing resources and new systems that make service providers more efficient.

The coordinated entry system, a database of homeless people ranked according to their need, and a new system that links state funding to shelter performance, were cited as examples.

“We really believe that coordinated entry has allowed us to more quickly respond to help people who become homeless to get into the housing they need and to match them with appropriate resources,” Lusk said.  

Brandee Menino Chair Hope Services Hawaii and left, Heather Lusk during homeless count press conference held at the Capitol Rotunda.
Brandee Menino of Hope Services Hawaii, right, and Heather Lusk announced the data gathered during the annual homeless point in time survey. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Shelters placed an average of 231 people into permanent housing per month in 2017, Lusk said. This year that average increased to 412 placements per month.

The Big Island saw an 8.8 percent decrease in the homeless population from 953 in 2017 to 896 this year. The island was home to the state’s only legal homeless encampment until Camp Kikaha in Kailua-Kona closed in March, but county officials are planning to create a larger legal encampment or “safe zone.”

This session, the Legislature allocated $30 million for six safe zones with temporary shelters and services.

Maui County had the state’s third-largest homeless population this year at 873 people. That’s a 2.6 percent decrease from 896 last year. 

More than half of the state’s homeless, or about 53 percent, are unsheltered, meaning they live outdoors as opposed to those staying at shelters.  

Lawmakers this session provided the administration of Gov. David Ige with more than $15 million to fund existing homeless programs, including temporary shelters and programs that offer housing vouchers and counseling services to homeless people.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded Partners in Care and Bridging the Gap $12 million in federal funds for homelessness.

That money is spent on rents and deposits to place people into housing and ongoing services and rental assistance once they are housed.  

Lawmakers also funded a $1 million medical respite pilot program and $800,000 for a new family assessment center

After housing, Brandee Menino of Bridging the Gap said the second most important service for the homeless population is treatment for mental illness.

“The real work really starts when they’re in housing and helping them to stabilize,” Menino said. “So oftentimes that’s mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, services for families, reconnecting family strengthening services. So all of that is necessary to help families stay in housing as well. Housing is the first step.”

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