Housing First stuck in funding dispute - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Housing First stuck in funding dispute

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

A year after Mayor Kirk Caldwell unveiled his plan to house some of Honolulu's chronic homeless, his Housing First initiative has hit a snag.

Caldwell and City Council chair Ernie Martin are at odds over who the initiative should help, and how $18.9 million should be spent. The mayor said the money is available now from the Affordable Housing fund but the City Council is sitting on it.

"We need this money," Caldwell said.

The Housing First pilot project would house about 100 homeless people with drug, alcohol and mental health problems in apartments scattered throughout the island where service providers can help them. Caldwell said it would get single men, single women, and families off the street.

"Housing First is about housing families and individuals. It's not families versus individuals," Caldwell said. "In Waikiki it's single men and runaway teenagers. In Chinatown it's about 50 percent women and 50 percent single men. And on the Waianae-Nanakuli coast and on the Windward side, we're talking about families."

But Martin wants families to be the priority.

"There's not much sympathy for the homeless, particularly those who are substance abusers, who prey on the community," he said.

Department of Community Services director Pamela Witty-Oakland said homeless shelters are mostly at capacity, and people there can't move into affordable housing.

"So folks are stuck in shelters longer than they need to be because we don't have an inventory of affordable housing. So that's what the Affordable Housing fund is for," she said.

Martin believes in the Housing First model. He said if the focus were on families, more homeless could be helped.

"By focusing or emphasizing maybe more facilities for families you can open up some of the shelters that are currently now taking in families and they can then focus more on the individual," he said.

When Caldwell announced his Housing First plan last year, he wanted to use $7 million from the sale of Oahu's affordable housing projects. That deal fell through. The council wants the final say.

"I think what you will see is probably restrictions being placed on the funds with an emphasis on what the Council deems is its priorities in terms of how those funds should be expended," Martin said.

Thursday, the Council Budget Committee cut $4 million from the $18.9 million Caldwell had wanted.

"To kind of slice-and-dice this only impacts the effectiveness of the program," Caldwell said.

By the time Housing First gets going, it will have even less money to work with.

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