Agency charged with finding homeless solutions made up of volunteers

Agency charged with finding homeless solutions made up of volunteers
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Homeless service provider Vennisha Bertola is used to having a lot on her plate, especially these days.

"Within the last hour I have gotten three new referrals," Bertola said.

While she could use some help, she's also accustomed to doing more with less.

"We always utilize our volunteers and our interns to come in and help us with other tasks and additional duties," Bertola said.

And it's not just homeless programs that are being run on a shoestring.

Partners in Care, a federally-mandated consortium, is one of the agencies in charge of devising a plan to solve Hawaii's homeless crisis facing. And it relies completely its nine volunteers.

Chairman Marc Gannon is one of them.

"It's very evident that we lack a sufficient infrastructure," said Gannon, who is a vice president at Aloha United Way.

Gannon say while Partners in Care volunteers are highly-qualified, with backgrounds in social work, law and government, they can only do so much without a dedicated staff.

"Ultimately we have to recognize that the volunteers who are committing their time and effort also have full time jobs," he said. "They have other commitments and that take priority, often over Partners in Care work."

Partners in Care is crucial to the state's homeless efforts.

They're central to securing $10 million in federal funding used to help homeless on Oahu.

The group is also in charge of coordinating efforts between service providers, the government and the community.

The job has become so big it requires full time attention, Gannon said.

"I need one staff person right now. Ultimately three staff just to manage our information system," he said.

Other cities have paid staff at similar groups.

In Phoenix, a similar organization works with about the same number of homeless who are  in Hawaii. It has two paid workers.

In Seattle, a similar group has eight paid positions.

Partners in Care has funding to make some of those hires, but it's still about $100,000 short. Gannon says he hopes to have one employee hired in the coming months.

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