BY RUSS SAITO – The Lingle-Aiona Administration has faced the issue of homelessness since the day it took office. It has done much in addressing the problem.
The Governor, recognizing that homelessness couldn’t be swept out of sight or delegated for someone else to handle, brought together private developers, non-profit organizations, housing advocates, state, county and federal agencies and others to develop a six-year plan addressing chronic homelessness and the lack of affordable housing.
As the collaborative efforts progressed, new crises emerged in April 2006 with the abrupt night time closure of Ala Moana Beach Park, followed by health and safety issues resulting from so many homeless people living in parks and beaches on the Leeward coast.
Using authority granted under the Hawai‘i State Constitution and State laws, the Governor signed emergency proclamations enabling development of the Next Step transitional shelter in Kaka‘ako in just six days, and the building of shelters on the Leeward coast in record time.
The multi-agency team of State Agencies – called HEART (Homeless Efforts Achieving Results Together) – used the emergency proclamations to develop shelters Onelau‘ena and Pai‘olu Kaiâulu on the Leeward Coast in 2006 and 2007, and Kahikolu ‘Ohana Hale ‘O Wai‘anae, Ulu Ke Kukui, and Kumuhonua in 2008.
On Kaua‘i, the State worked collaboratively with County officials to open Manaolana, the island’s first emergency shelter, as well as the Ka Uapo transitional housing facility at the former State Courthouse building in Lihu‘e.
These efforts spurred action to increase shelter capacity throughout the State. As a result, homeless shelter capacity has doubled since 2006 from 587 to 1188 units, while dormitory beds have increased by 50 percent from 525 beds to 785 beds.
The effect on the homeless issue has been dramatic.
The number of homeless people who received services from outreach provider agencies increased 18.2 percent from 9,875 in fiscal year 2006 to 11,680 in fiscal year 2009. The number of homeless people who received service in shelters increased 66.7 percent from 5,688 in fiscal year 2006 to 9,483 in fiscal year 2009. And the number of people who transitioned into permanent housing increased 163.9 percent from 1,532 in fiscal year 2006 to 4043 in fiscal year 2009.
We should be proud, as a community, of our collaborative efforts to help those in need. However, these achievements don’t tell the whole story. What makes everything worthwhile are successes that come out of these facilities.
One such case involves a couple with a history of drug abuse.
In a transitional shelter, the husband worked and the wife cared for her grandchildren and also attended budgeting, anger management and job readiness classes. Their hard work and money saved while in the shelter enabled them to move into public housing in less than a year and a half. The couple remains clean and sober until today.
Then there is the story of a divorced mother and grandmother with prior military service who had been living on the beach with her daughter and two grandchildren. Initially unemployed and struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, this woman got cleaned up, and entered an emergency shelter with her family.
Working with a case manager, in just six months she improved her family relationships, secured benefits due her as a veteran, participated in various training programs, qualified for federal housing vouchers, found employment and moved with her family into a transitional shelter where she is expected to continue her journey toward self-sufficiency..
One of the best long-term ways of reducing homelessness is to significantly increase the supply of affordable housing. Since taking office, the Lingle-Aiona Administration has pushed to have affordable homes and rental units built.
Between 2003 and 2010, 4,544 affordable houses and rental units were built. For years 2011 to 2015, the Administration has set a production target of 5,580 homes and rental units. Of that number, 554 units are already under construction.
By furthering our partnerships to help the homeless move from emergency and transitional shelters to independent living, and by protecting and increasing the supply of affordable housing, the significant progress we have made in addressing homelessness will surely continue..
Russ Saito is the state comptroller and heads the state’s homeless solutions efforts.