Hawaii's plan to end homelessness with individualized assessments

Hawaii's plan to end homelessness with individualized assessment
Published: Jul. 1, 2014 at 10:07 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 2, 2014 at 3:39 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawai'i has the second highest rate of homelessness in the nation, but the state has a plan to end what officials are calling an epidemic in a quick, strategic way by identifying what people's needs are and matching them to resources that can help.

"Our current system is a maze. I want to clarify, our current system is not amazing -- it's just a maze," described Greg Payton, the Executive Director of Partners in Care, a continuum collaboration of about 35 to 40 non-profit homelessness service providers on O'ahu.

Hawai?i Interagency Council on Homelessness Chair Colin Kippen says there is no one size-fits-all solution to the state's growing problem.  Instead, he says the agency believes it will find success with an individualized approach that addresses a person's specific challenges when it comes to housing and directs them to the right programs for assistance.

"You assess all the needs of the people that are out there, try to figure out what are the different levels of resources that are needed and match those resources together and place people in the appropriate level of care -- a very simple idea, long overdue," said Payton.

Hale o Malama is the state's plan to create a coordinated intake and assessment system for Hawai'i's homeless.  The intent is to identify people with the greatest need and help them first.

"Those who are unsheltered homeless and who utilize emergency rooms for regular treatment of medical needs cost the system a lot of money, so if we prioritize those folks for service -- the ones who are the most needy -- we can eventually save money in the long run," said Lori Tsuhako, the state's Homeless Programs Office Administrator.

"We have a lot of providers who are doing a lot of good work.  This is our attempt to coordinate that work more closely," said Tsuhako.

The data-based approach to assessing need and then matching services based on what resources are available is made possible through a survey known as "VISPDAT" -- the Vulnerability Index Service Prioritization Decision Assistant Tool.  Officials say it's essentially a series of questions designed to gather the information needed to get a homeless person into housing.  All providers will now be using it and sharing their information in a universal database.

"It's exciting to see providers working together closely in a collaborative fashion where everyone is using the same assessment form to assess an individual.  No matter how they enter the homeless system -- whether it's off the street or through an emergency or transitional shelter -- they're assessing everyone in the same way.  Also, the fact that we have providers meeting on a weekly basis in case conferences just to all talk about how to best help one individual and get them ready and get them off the streets -- it's just great," explained Scott Morishige, the Executive Director of PHOCUSED -- Protecting Hawai?i's ?ohana, children underserved, elderly, and disabled -- a non-profit advocacy organization.

Under the new model -- city, county, state and federal providers are formally working together to streamline their services and avoid duplications in care.

"We need to work effectively as a team together. The VA can't tackle homelessness alone, other agencies cannot tackle it alone.  We need to work together," said Andrew Dahlburg, the Veterans Affairs Manager of Homeless Programs for Pacific Islands.

Officials say the collaboration has also helped expose the number one obstacle agencies are facing -- a lack of affordable housing.

"We need to identify more units.  We need to identify how we're going to create more units.  We need to demonstrate to people that we're actually getting chronically homeless people off the streets,"  Dahlburg said.

Officials say the vast majority of the state's homeless -- about 4,700 people -- are on O'ahu, with an estimated 7,000 statewide.

One out of six are believed to live on the streets and officials say they're the ones they have prioritized to help first.

'This is a plan.  It's a plan.  It's services.  It's a way of doing things that has worked in other communities.  Nashville, for example, has been really successful. San Diego and Phoenix  have been really successful in really seeing drops in their numbers of homelessness.  We can do that here in Honolulu, too. We can do that across the state.  There is good reason to be happy about these changes," said Tsuhako.


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