New effort aimed at saving lives, money when dealing with homeless

Published: Sep. 16, 2012 at 8:36 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 17, 2012 at 8:09 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - There are an estimated one thousand unsheltered homeless on the streets of Oahu. Efforts are now getting underway to determine how many of them are the most medically vulnerable and at-risk.

Partners in Care, an organization of homeless service providers, is spearheading Oahu's part the "100,000 Homes Campaign," a national effort to place the chronically homeless into permanent shelters. Some 200 volunteers will be fanning out in Waikiki, Downtown Honolulu and the Waianae coast, surveying the unsheltered homeless to find the 100 who are most at-risk.

"You target the top hundred who have the most vulnerable medical needs, and then you put them into housing with wrap-around services, so they're getting the mental health assistance that they need, they're getting the medical assistance that they need, they're getting the case management that they need," said Kent Anderson, the project coordinator for Partners in Care.

Organizers said this is one of the largest coordinated efforts in Hawaii to end chronic homelessness, and involves dozens of private and public agencies to help those identified as the most vulnerable.

"We'll just literally take that list and coordinate it with the resources we have and say, 'Okay, you'll work with this population." They find some veterans? We'll work with that population and everyone else to make it work with them to get them into housing. Permanent housing," said Partners in Care Chair Darryl Vincent, who's also with U.S. Vets, which assists homeless veterans.

Those involved say the effort will ultimately save lives, but it will also save money. According to the city Emergency Services Division, unsheltered homeless are even among the EMS top ten users of 911, with many trips to the hospital by ambulance. "At 800 bucks a pop, you know, that is very expensive. And if you look at the list of ten, eight of those ten were homeless," said Colin Kippen, the governor's Coordinator on Homelessness.

"If you think about it, if we could put those folks into housing, and plan their medical benefits and get them squared away, you would save a substantial amount of money. Plus, you'd probably save their lives in the process," Kippen added.

"Often for example, if somebody's been hospitalized three times within the last year, that shows that they're at a higher risk of future hospitalization and not just at risk of death, but also a much higher user of services -- when I say services, I mean health services -- which ends up costing us, as a community, a lot of dollars," said Anderson.

"I never thought that the best prescription a doctor could write is, 'Okay, you need housing and an aspirin,'" Anderson added, "because sometimes housing is the best medicine to, once again, save lives and save money."

Volunteer training took place Sunday at the State Capitol. Those volunteers will survey the homeless Monday through Wednesday, with the results reviewed by Saturday. The organization said the long-term goal will be to have the 100 most at-risk placed in permanent shelters over the next two years.

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