With evictions looming, advocates urge state not to cut funding for homeless programs

Updated: Jan. 15, 2021 at 5:57 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - It will be at least another year before we know what impact the pandemic has had on Hawaii’s homeless population.

That’s because teams tasked with annually counting the number of people living on the street are taking this year off.

As COVID-19 has paralyzed Hawaii’s economy, work to house people living on the street continues.

Laura Thielen, executive director of Partners in Care, said that work has meant the homeless population does not appear to have soared during the pandemic.

But, she added, “once the eviction moratoriums do get lifted, we will see an increase in homelessness.”

Service providers believe the governor’s ban on evictions for nonpayment of rent has prevented thousands of people from becoming homeless.

They fear what’s to come when the moratorium ends, however.

Connie Mitchell, executive director of the Institute for Human Services, said some Hawaii non-profits are already noticing an uptick in the number of people participating in homeless programs.

She said there’s also been an increase of people on the street who are newly-arrived from the mainland.

“In the beginning when we were locked down and the travel ban was in place there was a lot less,” she said. “But recently we’ve seen more people come in who are recent arrivals.”

Last year’s point-in-time count ― conducted on a single night in January ― found some 6,458 people were experiencing homelessness across the state. Nearly 70% of them were on Oahu.

While the federal government has committed to providing the same level of funding as last year, it’s unknown if the state will continue to pay for critical services amid the ongoing budget crisis.

“When CARES money and other sorts of funding goes away, which it will eventually, we need to have a very solid foundation to make sure we can still accommodate those folks who are experiencing homelessness,” Thielen said.

Mitchell added, “Homeless services are the safety net for the community and I really hope we can keep that safety net in place.”

While there’s no count of Hawaii’s unsheltered homeless population this year, officials say they will take a tally of everyone in shelters, jails, and hospitals.

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