Outreach workers struggle to help homeless who turn them away - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Outreach workers struggle to help homeless who turn them away

(Image: Hawaii News Now) (Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now) (Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now) (Image: Hawaii News Now)
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Everything Marisa Bryan-Mesaku owns is inside a red push wagon.

"My tent, my bag of clothes," she said.

The mother of two lived in Kakaako Waterfront Park for four years. Tired of dodging government sweeps, she decided it was time to make a change.

But moving into a shelter wasn't easy.

During her time on the streets, outreach workers stopped by to offer help -- and shelter -- at least twice a week. They estimate it took more than 400 of those conversations for her to finally say yes.

Bryan-Mesaku said that until recently, moving into a shelter wasn't an option.

"My son has seizures so he couldn't stay in there because it's too hot," she said. "So I ended up out here."

She added, "He's grown out of it."

Over the past year, service providers have connected hundreds of the people who wanted housing with a place to live. But as the push continues to get people off the streets, outreach workers are finding that those who remain unsheltered appear to be the hardest to house. 

"A year ago you could walk up to people and go, 'Do you want help?' 'They go yeah, where's it at?'" said Justin Phillips, outreach manager for the Institute for Human Services. "Today it's not that way. These are folks who have been longtime homeless folks. They know where the services are at. They have chosen not to go that route."

The reasons why people turn down assistance vary.

Phillips says some people have become acclimated to living on the street. "Others include folks who are substance abuse dependent," he said. "And then we have a lot of severely mentally ill folks who don't even know about services."

The state's newest point-in-time homeless count, released this summer, showed that scores of homeless have had interactions with outreach workers dating back more than a decade.

Of the 1,850 unsheltered homeless in the islands, nearly 1 in 3 have had encounters with outreach workers dating back to 2005.

And a full 10 percent of the 3,370 homeless in shelters have intake records dating back more than decade. (One hundred people had records dating back to 1999.)

Some of those chronically homeless people may have fallen in and out of homelessness over the years. Others may have turned down help consistently, or accepted limited help.

IHS officials said it takes at least two years -- with an average of 45 in-depth encounters a year -- to convince someone who's considered "resistant" to finally accept services.

Phillips believes consistency is crucial to convincing people who turn down help that there's a better life. He's says it's also important to dispel myths.

"You have to have an ID to get into shelter. That's not true," he said. "So that's part of our job as outreach workers to let them know the truth."

Meanwhile, Bryan-Mesaku is optimistic about her family's future. And she's looking forward to when they'll all be under the same roof.

"My daughter is in a volunteer foster care home," she said. "I want to get a place so I can bring her back home."

Copyright 2016 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

Powered by Frankly