Advocates: New fees, laws stemming tide of homeless from mainland
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two months ago, Donte Toombs used his government benefits to buy a one-way ticket from Minnesota to Hawaii.
The 28-year-old, who said he suffers from mental illness, was recently spotted walking down Kapiolani Boulevard with a backpack and a couple of blankets.
"I came out here, did some studying out here. It was a good place to live so I came out here for that reason," he said.
Experts say Toombs' story is common. About a third of Oahu's new homeless arrivals suffer from mental health issues.
But while service providers are still seeing fresh faces daily, the overall number of people showing up on Oahu and quickly ending up homeless is going down.
In 2012, about 470 people arrived on Oahu from the mainland and were homeless within a year. That figure was down to 309 in 2015.
Homeless service providers say they're seeing the statistics play out firsthand on the streets.
"The reality is we've actually been seeing a reduction," said Kimo Carvalho, of the Institute for Human Services, which runs the state's largest homeless shelters and offers other services.
IHS gets the majority of Oahu's recent arrivals. And in the past year, they've seen 190 new arrivals.
Carvalho said he believes educating recent arrivals about the cost of living is one reason for the decrease.
"Also, our new laws do not accommodate newcomers to be homeless on sidewalks or beaches or parks," he said. "We've also increased the shelter fee ... so it's about $400 a month to stay at the shelter if you are a recent arrival."
Carvalho said the perception that there are a lot of newcomers on the streets might be due to chronic homeless changing neighborhoods.
"We're not only seeing new faces. But now we're experiencing new types of challenges with different homeless sub-populations," he said.
He added that many are addicted to drugs or suffer from mental illness. Both are factors that cause people to move instead of going to a shelter.
Back on Kapiolani Boulevard, Toombs isn't sure what his next step will be.
IHS officials said he spent two weeks at their men's shelter before checking himself out.
"I'm actually interested in shelter because I need this help," Toombs said.
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