Homeless provider sees influx of mainland clients

Homeless provider sees influx of mainland clients
Published: May. 26, 2016 at 8:26 PM HST|Updated: May. 27, 2016 at 12:20 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - George Schemel just checked in to the IHS men's shelter in Iwilei. Up until three weeks ago, the 65-year-old was living on the streets of California.

"I come over here to have a good time and go back when I need to go back," he said.

In the short time he's been here, he's says he spent all of his money and landed himself in the hospital after a fight. This is the second time in as many years George has been homeless in Hawaii. Last time, he was on Maui.

"Basically every time I come over here I never think it through very much," Schemel said.

Schemel is among a growing number of clients that Hawaii's largest emergency shelter is seeing who are from the mainland.

In the past 18 months, the Institute for Human Service has moved 388 homeless back to the mainland through its airline relocation program, which only enrolls clients who have support systems in their home states and requires participants to pay for half of their tickets.

But as quickly as IHS can send homeless back to the mainland, more take their places.

Over the past year, 302 people from the mainland ended up at IHS, sometimes within days of getting off the plane.

That number is up 30 percent from the same time last year.

"It's concerning because it really puts a strain on our resources that have been allocated, frankly, for our local population," said Jerry Coffee, Institute for Human Services clinical director.

Homeless providers stress that a small number of Hawaii's homeless are new arrivals. But, they say, many of the people who end up homeless shortly after moving to the state have mental health issues.

Coffee says many of the new arrivals IHS sees use government benefits (such as Social Security) to purchase a one-way ticket to Hawaii. He estimates about 6 in 10 suffer from some sort of mental illness.

"People who have psychotic disorders, those who suffer from major depression, folks with very severe PTSD. Most of the time you would not know that individual could be that dysfunctional," Coffee said.

IHS also said that Hawaii's Medicaid benefits are a draw for some.

"The medical benefits are very generous and there is a lot available for folks here that might not be available for Medicaid plans in other parts of the country," Coffee said.

Schemel, who was previously homeless in California, says he's happy staying at the shelter.

"It's just been good," he said.

And isn't interested in going back to California.

Mobile users: Click here, to see more coverage of Hawaii's homeless crisis.

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