Homelessness on the neighbor islands crept up by less than a percent over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a survey of people living on the street or in shelters.

Kauai and the Big Island saw a 5% uptick in homelessness, or an increase of 20 and 40 people, respectively. But the survey located 48 fewer homeless people in Maui County this year compared to a 2020 count, resulting from 70 fewer people counted in shelters and 22 additional people located on the street.

Powered by volunteers, the annual point-in-time count targeting where people slept on the night of Jan. 23 is the first to shed light on the impact of the pandemic on homelessness in Hawaii. The 40-page Bridging The Gap report, prepared by Ka Mana O Na Helu, was released Thursday.

Homelessness decreased on Maui but there was a slight uptick on the Big Island and Kauai. Brittany Lyte/Civil Beat/2021

The increased visibility of homelessness, such as the tent cities that took over some Kauai beach parks, had generated a sense that the Covid-19 crisis exacerbated the state’s homeless problem. But the report did not uncover any staggering changes in the number of people without a home in rural Hawaii.

The once-a-year headcount conducted across the U.S. offers a rough snapshot of the immediate homeless situation nationwide. While imprecise, the federal Housing and Urban Development office uses the data to allocate funding to cities and states.

It also informs local public policy discussions and funding decisions. Homeless services providers use the data to shape outreach decisions.

Last year, the unsheltered count was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, although organizations did a limited survey of people on Oahu in shelters, recording 1,185 people in emergency shelters, 640 in transitional housing and 28 in a safe haven.

Overall, the count showed a 12-person increase in homelessness on the neighbor islands from 2020, amounting to 2,022 people this year. The 2022 survey counted 837 homeless people on the Big Island, 741 homeless people on Maui and 444 homeless people on Kauai.

Kauai County Housing Director Adam Roversi said in a press release that much more needs to be done to address homelessness on the Garden Isle. But he highlighted recent efforts to boost emergency and affordable housing options.

He also touted a county push to upgrade the wastewater system at the homeless shelter operated by the nonprofit Kauai Economic Opportunity. The upgrades are expected to help the emergency shelter double its bed count.

“Addressing homelessness continues to be a whole-community approach,” Roversi said.

Most of Hawaii’s homeless population lives on Oahu: more than 4,400 people, according to the island’s 2020 point-in-time count. More than half of them are unsheltered, either living on the street or somewhere else unfit for human habitation.

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