HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Every year, in the last week of January, hundreds of volunteers canvass the state, with surveys in hand, in an effort to compile a record of how many homeless people are living in shelters or on Hawaii's streets.
The results of the state's "point-in-time" count meaningfully impact Hawaii's ability to address the homeless issue; the numbers compiled by volunteers dictate how much money the federal government gives back to the state to tackle homelessness. Last year, of the 7,921 homeless people counted, over half were unsheltered.
Jennifer Stasch, director of the homeless advocacy group Partners in Care, said the count is vital to addressing the state's homeless crisis.
"In order to resolve this problem, we have to understand this problem," Stasch said. "The goal is to get the best count possible."
To do that, Stasch says she needs some help; in particular, the group needs volunteers.
That's because 2017 is the first year a single agency has headed up Oahu's count -- a change intended to help streamline the process. In the past, the count was divided into seven different districts, and each district was handled by different agencies.
That led to some problems.
Last year, some service providers claimed there was a lack of volunteers for the count. When Hawaii News Now asked how many volunteers participated in 2016, Stasch replied: "I am not able to get a total as each region kept separate records, and some agency leads do not have records."
This year, she added, "There's just one door to go through for this year's count and that's via our website. We have a common place for volunteers to sign up. We're going to have one training curriculum."
Although the agency started recruiting volunteers a month and a half ago, the non-profit is still short 350 people. The most need is in the areas of downtown Honolulu, the Ewa region (which includes Pearl City and Aiea) and in Windward Oahu.
"You don't necessarily have to be someone going out in the community. Again they're looking for volunteers with the facilities for the training. They're also looking for people to contribute toiletries or incentives to help engage individuals in the count," said Scott Morishige, the governor's homeless coordinator.
This year's count starts January 23. To sign up to volunteer, click here.