Count: Homelessness statewide is down, but Oahu sees less progress

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For the first time in eight years, there are fewer homeless people on Hawaii's streets and in its shelters, a new "point-in-time" count shows.

The statewide decrease comes amid new efforts to move the homeless off the streets faster — and prevent people from falling into homelessness in the first place.

The 2017 count, conducted in January, found 7,220 sheltered and unsheltered homeless people across the state.

That's down 9 percent from 2016, when the figure was 7,921. But it's still nearly 1,000 more homeless people than were counted in 2013.

This year's drop is thanks to significantly smaller homeless figures on the Neighbor Islands.

The Big Island saw its count decline by 32 percent (or 441 people), while Maui County saw a 22 percent drop in homelessness (249 people).

In Kauai County, the number of homeless counted dropped by 7 percent (30 people).

Homeless service providers on the neighbor islands say their strategy of getting people into housing faster played a significant role in decreasing the state's homeless population.

"I think the main reason is housing placement. We did a better job at housing families. And we made it easier for people to get into shelters. We went from four pages of shelter rules to six expectations. We knew that's one of the complaints we get from our homeless community," said Brandee Menino, Bridging the Gap chairperson.

Oahu was the only place to see an increase: The number of homeless counted increased by 19 people.

Regardless of what the report shows, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and his Housing Director still say the City's efforts are working.

"The Waianae Coast and even East Honolulu, we've seen a decrease in the number of homeless in those areas," said Marc Alexander, Honolulu's housing director.

Alexander claims the City has housed more people than the survey indicates because past counts were inaccurate.
"The reason why the numbers are flat instead of going down on Oahu is because certain areas that have been well undercounted in the past have now been accurately counted," he said.

The small decline was due to a 5 percent drop in the number of sheltered homeless, and a 7 percent increase in the number people living on the streets.

This year, some 2,324 unsheltered homeless were counted islandwide (151 more than the year before).

And some communities saw significant increases: The number of unsheltered homeless counted in Upper Windward increased 122 percent to 149, while Ewa saw a 14 percent increase, with 231 people counted.

In Downtown Honolulu, some 639 unsheltered homeless were counted, up 6 percent from the year before.

Gov. David Ige said Wednesday that federal, state and county entities are working with service providers to address the crisis.

"Certainly, we are beginning to get traction in the many programs that we have," Ige said.

Other highlights from the report include:

  • There was an 8 percent decrease in the number of homeless veterans statewide.
  • The state also saw an 8 percent decline in the number of chronically homeless people, compared to 2016.
  • And 19 percent fewer families were counted as homeless , compared to the year before.

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