Lawmakers have an idea for keeping homeless in shelters: Pay them to stay

Lawmakers have an idea for keeping homeless in shelters: Pay them to stay
Updated: Feb. 9, 2018 at 3:32 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii has the nation's highest rate of homeless per capita — and more than half of the homeless live on the streets.

To try to address that problem, legislators have a unique solution: Paying the homeless to live in shelters.

House Bill 2649 moved forward Friday with amendments after committee review. If passed, chronically homeless individuals in the 96817 area (roughly, Urban Honolulu) would be paid a $12 stipend for every night they stay in a homeless shelter.

The bill would also create a pilot program for the Department of Human Services to contract an organization that would address the needs of chronically homeless individuals in the 96817 zip code.

Last year's Point-In-Time Homeless Count found that 7,220 people live on streets and in shelters in Hawaii.

The state Department of Human Services, the organization whose budget the funds would be coming from, testified against the bill.

"Other communities have tried a variety of cash incentives in the past, without much evidence that healthy behaviors follow. Providing monetary incentives will not guarantee a person's desire to enter program," said Pankaj Bhanot, director of DHS, in written testimony.

DHS also claims that those who enter shelters because of the incentive will be less likely to leave, creating another problem.

State Homelessness Coordinator Scott Morishige, also testified against the bill, saying that the measure would take funding away from existing state homeless programs. Morishige also mentioned that the cash incentive may be encouragement for homeless to stay in shelters long term.

However, some supported the idea.

"Given that House Bill No. 2649 provides that DHS establish a pilot program to address chronic homelessness in the 96817 zip code, it is the position of the OCC Legislative Priorities Committee to support this measure," said Melodie Aduja, chair of the Oahu County Committee.

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