Count shows homelessness down, but number of unsheltered homeless swells

Updated: May. 15, 2019 at 5:07 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The latest census of homeless people statewide and on Oahu offers brights spots ― and some areas for concern, experts said.

The figures from the count, conducted on a single night in January, were released Wednesday and show slight declines in the overall homeless population.

On Oahu, volunteers counted 4,453 homeless people in 2019. That’s down from 4,495 homeless individuals last year.

Statewide, the number of homeless individuals also went down 1 percent ― from 6,530 people in 2018 to 6,448 people in 2019.

But the number of unsheltered homeless on Oahu jumped 12 percent this year. The census counted 2,401 people living on the streets, parks or in cars.

The number of sheltered individuals, meanwhile, went down 13 percent.

“We are doing a good job in housing our families, but it also means we need to target our efforts to the single unsheltered adults differently,” said Heather Lusk, vice chairwoman of Partners in Care.

On Wednesday, she gathered with service providers, government leaders and community stakeholders at the Punawai Rest Stop in Iwilei.

Lusk says the jump in unsheltered people living on the streets is similar to a West Coast trend.

"The roots of homelessness in this report continue to be clear. It comes in from poverty and lack of affordable housing," said Lusk.

Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders make up a disproportionate number of Hawaii’s homeless, but service providers say many are qualified for homestead housing.

“That’s a good thing because either they are signed up and are on the list or still need to apply for those applications,” said Jere Kalima, awareness committee chair of Partners in Care.

There are bright spots in the census.

Since 2015, the number of homeless families declined 42 percent and veteran homelessness went down 18 percent.

Vietnam veteran Aurelius T. Warren spent years living in Aala Park, battling health problems and drug addiction. He also served prison time for dealing cocaine.

He says he could have died if it wasn’t for outreach workers who got him treatment last August and now he’s living with a roof over his head in Makakilo.

“Now society has set me an open arm and talked to me like they’ve known me for years and I love it,” he said.

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