About the Author

Connie Mitchell

Connie Mitchell has led IHS — the Institute for Human Services — as executive director for 17 years. IHS has, and is still, focused exclusively on ending homelessness in Hawaii. Mitchell’s career includes five years as the director of nursing at the Hawaii State Hospital, pastoral work and advocating new programs and systems change to better meet the needs of undeserved populations.

The Point in Time Count is a critical tool that sheds light on this hidden side of our state.

Our island home is often celebrated for its stunning landscapes, amazing food, and aloha spirit. Yet, hidden between the postcards and viral clips on social media lies a harsh reality that many of us overlook in our day-to-day lives: the growing crisis of homelessness.

Each year, thousands of individuals and families find themselves without a place to call home. To truly grasp the depth of this issue, we often turn to the Point in Time Count, a critical tool that sheds light on this hidden side of Hawaii.

The PIT Count serves as an annual census, aiming to quantify the number of our neighbors experiencing homelessness, both in shelters and on the streets on a single night. That date is usually during winter and correlated with the rest of the nation.

Mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, this count isn’t just about numbers. It’s a vital step in determining the federal funding and support our local communities receive to address homelessness.

It also helps us learn how we stack up next to counterparts on the continent, both in terms of gross numbers and our rate of homelessness. We will never see as many people experiencing homeless as cities like L.A. or New York City. But we actually have higher rates of homelessness than either of those metro areas.

The Count Has Limitations

Currently, the PIT Count in Hawaii is conducted by two groups: Partners in Care for Oahu and Bridging The Gap for Hawaii, Kauai, and Maui counties. Both groups gather data on sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals, providing us with a snapshot of the situation.

However, the PIT Count has its limitations. The count itself is a survey regarding where individuals stayed on one specific night; it does not capture the full extent of homelessness over the course of an entire year.

The count also leaves out many others experiencing homelessness who may not be on the street or in a shelter on the designated evening. A more comprehensive approach would be to include persons who are hospitalized (and homeless prior to admission), persons in jail who will likely be released back into homelessness and those who police are encountering or have arrested and in the cell block.

In fact, gathering such data in an ongoing manner for cumulative annual numbers would be helpful in helping to resource systems of care to assist these people to end their homeless. This would help us understand not just the number, but also the specific needs of our homelessness population.

Why Accurate Counts Matter

The importance of accurate data cannot be overstated. It directly informs the funding decisions and resource allocations required for our elected officials to tackle homelessness effectively

For example, the 2023 PIT count identified 6,223 people experiencing homelessness in Hawaii, with the majority on Oahu. This data highlights where our efforts and resources are most needed.

But data about how people are accessing and/or utilizing services are important for developing effective systems of care. You can have all the services in the world to offer. But if people are not availing themselves of those services, they will not get the help they need to exit out of homeless.

A closer look at such data can also expose underlying issues, like the prevalence of mental illness and disabilities among the homeless, directing us toward advocating for more resources like workforce and programs for mental health services and housing that accommodates those with physical disabilities.

Insights And Stories

The 2023 PIT Coconnie unt offers us some surprising insights:

  • Geographic Disparities: of no surprise was that the majority of homeless individuals were found on Oahu. But the rates of sheltered and unsheltered individuals across the counties varied greatly.
  • Native Hawaiian Impact: A disproportionate 28% of the homeless population identified as Native Hawaiian.
  • Disabling Conditions: Alarmingly, 62%, reported at least one disabling condition, which means housing alone will not solve our homeless problem. Medical care, behavioral health needs and emerging cognitive impairments all need a lan to address.
  • Root Causes: Key factors like family conflicts and unaffordable rent as a one person household emerged as common pathways into homelessness.

These numbers tell us a story. They are more than statistics; they represent real lives – families torn apart by substance use disorders, individuals battling health issues, and a Native Hawaiian community facing disproportionate adversity related to generational trauma.

(IHS)

Evolving Our Approach

To effectively combat homelessness, we must improve how we measure and interpret this epidemic.

Ongoing and wide-ranging data collection will give us the insights to design more impactful policies and programs. Understanding the “why” behind these numbers can lead to more targeted and compassionate solutions as well as some prevention strategies.

Broader data collection at different points in our service systems may tell us what is behind extended periods of homelessness, which intercept points might yield the most impact, to what extent new arrivals are contributing to Hawaii’s homeless numbers, or the type(s) of trauma experienced that is often behind substance use disorders — all of which may not be surfaced with the standard interviews we currently use to collect data points on first meeting.

Each year, thousands of individuals and families find themselves without a place to call home.

Relative to their relationship with service systems, it might be helpful to surface how much an individual or family may have sought services prior to becoming homeless. Were there natural helpers in their lives? Or who could become such supports as they try to re-establish themselves?

This kind of information could also provide clues to help us Identify and enhance motivation for change that is critical when dealing with chronic homelessness. Data can also reveal common themes that can guide the development of interventions and programs that are more likely to inspire courage to heal and grow.

An Incomplete Tool

The Point in Time Count is a crucial, yet incomplete, tool. It opens a window into the lives of thousands in Hawaii who struggle every day to find stability and dignity, while also reflecting historical shifts and trends. Our aim is to refine and broaden these data sets to better advocate for people experiencing homelessness and ensuring that unique local aspects of houselessness are also addressed.

Meanwhile, your active participation is vital. We invite you to join as a volunteer with Partners In Care Oahu for the 2024 Point In Time Count this Jan. 23. Your role extends beyond tallying numbers — it’s about contributing to a future where everyone has a secure home.

Let’s convert data into actionable insights and our collective compassion into a movement for our community. Click here to get involved on Oahu.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.


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About the Author

Connie Mitchell

Connie Mitchell has led IHS — the Institute for Human Services — as executive director for 17 years. IHS has, and is still, focused exclusively on ending homelessness in Hawaii. Mitchell’s career includes five years as the director of nursing at the Hawaii State Hospital, pastoral work and advocating new programs and systems change to better meet the needs of undeserved populations.


Latest Comments (0)

Weather is local climate is global. Charity and love are personal. Justice is structural. Governor Greene in his State of State address claimed 52% of short term housing units on Maui were owned by absentee landlords who make 4 times the profit in short term rentals than in housing locals from Lahaina. The market price signals combined with human psychology of individual self interest is what is throwing the middle class and poor into crisis--the homeless are the bottom end of the curve. We need structural change or systemic change that only governmental action can facilitate--tax second and third homes, curb flipping of houses for fast bucks, give Hawaiians back their ceded land and find an off-ramp for the savage economy based on 3% growth each year into infinity which is an absurd myth on an island and a small planet. 50% of our fish are gone. Plastics now out weigh all living animals on the planet. The economy is in overshoot and the planet will soon correct itself with violent weather. Let's find a ramp off as job one for all the intellectual and political power remaining on this island. Look deeply at human needs. Shelter and food. Laughter and friends.

JM · 1 month ago

We have a unique opportunity here, that ironically exploits Hawaii being decades behind the mainland in many regards. HI can truncate, accelerate, &/or abbreviate the cycle that has brought cities such SF, Portland, LA, & Seattle to the brink of self-destruction, by over-indulging their homeless' rights & privileges.This is a critical health & safety issue that can easily & swiftly be addressed by emergency proclamations at the county and state levels; sweep the homeless off our streets & beaches and out of our parks, & house them in a "one stop, wrap-around care" facility. I propose a "JTF-50 like" camp, on the grounds of Aloha Stadium.Yes- the optics may be aggressive; civil rights will be suspended in the favor of saving these peoples' lives, & ridding our communities & neighborhoods of a toxic threat.The goals of this proposal are:1. Screen & identify readiness, willingness, & ability levels to function in a society that values our collective security & quality of life.2. Provide what help these people need, not want, to promote self-sufficiency, & no longer a burden & liability.The longer we wait, the harder this will be to solve.Build "Camp Aloha"!

Shoeter · 1 month ago

One thing for sure is that (State never will or can DO") anything about Homelessness, unless the people who are homeless DO"wants to be homeless.

Huli69 · 1 month ago

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