City mistakenly overstates number of homeless getting permanent housing

Updated: Jul. 18, 2018 at 5:26 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It sounded like great news in the battle against homelessness on Oahu.

Last Thursday, the executive director of the city's Housing Office, Marc Alexander, said this at a news conference: "Our general statistics indicate that about 40 percent of our people who are in shelters every month now exit into permanent housing."

Hawaii News Now checked in with the island's three largest homeless service providers to get more information on the new number. And it turns out that city announcement was wrong, considerably overstating how many people were finding housing.

The Institute for Human Services is by far Oahu's largest homeless service provider. In May, it had 637 clients in its emergency and transitional shelters. Out of those, 27 moved into permanent housing — or 4 percent.

That same month, US Vets placed 36 people from shelter into permanent housing, or 11 percent.

The Next Step Shelter in Kakaako placed 12 clients, or 7 percent.

All of those numbers are a far cry from the city's claim of 40 percent.

So what's going on?

Several days after HNN challenged the number, the city admitted what was said during the news conference was wrong.

"I want to clarify what I stated. Or what I meant to state is that every month when people exit from the shelters, of those who exit over 40 percent exit into permanent housing," said Alexander.

In other words, the 40 percent the city referred to is something called the permanent housing exit rate.

It's calculated using only the number of people who leave shelters each month.

For example, out of the 40 households that left US Vets emergency and transitional shelters in May, 27 moved into permanent housing. That means the exit rate is 68 percent.

Islandwide, of all the people who left Oahu's shelters over the last year, an average 43 percent left for permanent housing.

The others ended up in a variety of places, including detox, another housing program or back on the streets.

City Councilman Trevor Ozawa said given the millions of dollars spent to serve the homeless, accurate statistics and statements are essential.

"We need to be very clear and concise when we talk about that because homelessness is the top issue in the city," he said.

He added, "We're making a huge investment at the city for Housing First. And the people want to see their tax dollars put to work."

Worth noting: A successful placement for a shelter doesn't always mean permanent housing. In May, the same month the city referenced, more than 60 others went to detox, transitional housing, respite homes or to their families back on the mainland.

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