Governor launches Hawaii's first pre-arrest diversion program for homeless

Governor launches Hawaii's first pre-arrest diversion program for homeless
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OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Gov. David Ige, along with several state and community organizations, launched the state's first pre-arrest diversion program for Hawaii's homeless on Wednesday.

The pilot program, called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion or LEAD, will utilize public health and social resources to give law enforcement officers a non-arrest option when dealing with minor offenses by homeless individuals. The program, which is being funded by the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division of the state Department of Health, includes a partnership with more than 30 community groups.

Law enforcement agencies, like the Honolulu Police Department and the Department of Public Safety, will refer individuals who commit low-level, victimless crimes to The CHOW Project and Life Foundation as an alternative to arrest.

The CHOW Project and Life Foundation will then work with LEAD social service providers to offer housing and treatment for substance abuse, among other forms of assistance.

"LEAD will close the gaps in our homeless and substance abuse treatment systems by quickly diverting appropriate people from public safety to much-needed behavioral health and homeless services," said Heather Lusk, executive director of The CHOW Project and Life Foundation, a nonprofit group contracted by DOH to lead the program.

While existing programs aim to avoid recidivism in individuals already in the criminal justice system, LEAD is the first program in Hawaii that aims to help homeless individuals before they are charged.

LEAD is modeled after a similar program in Seattle, whose participants were 60 percent less likely to be arrested in comparison to non-participants. About 40 percent of participants found housing through the Seattle program.

"Government cannot resolve homelessness on its own," Gov. Ige said in a news release. "The LEAD pilot program will strengthen the bonds of trust and understanding between law enforcement and the most vulnerable members of our community."

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