In 2014, Roger Thompson went from being homeless on a Honolulu street to a residence back in Texas. The Institute for Human Services paid for half of the cost of a one-way ticket to help him get there.
"He's employed now. He's living with his sister. We got him connected with the VA, so he's getting the services that he really needs," IHS executive director Connie Mitchell said.
Since the agency's airline relocation program began, 364 homeless people have received assistance to go back to the mainland. In the last twelve months, the program relocated 133 individuals.
Mitchell calls it an "awesome program."
"I think we're really helping a lot of people," she said.
So far, IHS has kept the initiative going on about $15,000 a year, most of the money from donations. But raising the money isn't guaranteed, and this year's fund is already almost depleted.
"We're hoping for another infusion pretty soon, because we have made applications to other organizations," Mitchell said.
About 50 homeless people in Hawaii are on the list to go home, but not until the funds become available. Most were referred to IHS by human service agencies on the neighbor islands.
Even after three apparently successful years, the state is not willing to commit taxpayer money to the program.
"This is something we need to continue a dialogue on. We need to really look at, how effective has the existing program been?" state homeless coordinator Scott Morishige said.
Added Mitchell, "I don't really necessarily feel like we have to depend on the state government to make it happen, but we do need community support to make it happen."
Homeless people who qualify must pay the other half of their airfare and have a support system waiting back home. IHS keeps tabs on those who have gone back to the mainland, and Mitchell says only a handful have returned to Hawaii.