The 2023 Homeless Point in Time Count conducted from Jan. 23-29 asked, “Where did you sleep on Sunday, January 22?”
Compared to the 2022 count, homelessness on Hawaii Island has increased by 20%. The 2023 count shows an increase in total homelessness, for both individuals and families. On Hawaii Island, the outreach workers and volunteers asked questions related to how long those they encountered had been living houseless, what led to their current situation, and if they recently arrived in Hawaii, where did they come from and why did they come here.
This year an additional question was asked. The question: “What can we do to help you end your homelessness?” The two top answers were, help securing housing 54% and rent assistance 41%. Additionally, 22% wanted help replacing lost or stolen documents,and 10% wanted help with securing employment. Only 3% wanted help connecting with family to go home.
It is evident that we have more people pitching tents and makeshift tarp structures in public places not meant for human habitation or sleeping in their cars along roadways. These are easily observable without a point in time count. What is not so evident is the work that is being done to address the needs of our vulnerable community.
Made possible by Ordinance 22-77, the Office of Housing and Community Development, or OHCD, awarded over $7 million in Hawaii County Homelessness and Housing Support Grants. These funds help build capacity, keeping drop-in centers open longer and addressing current gaps in service areas such as substance use disorder, street medicine, behavioral health, justice involved individuals, and domestic violence shelter/housing services. This first year of awards also begins to lay the foundation for broad coordinated service access and delivery that includes upstream prevention services.
OHCD is currently accepting Affordable Housing Program proposals from qualified developers, eligible nonprofit and for-profit organizations, public agencies and community land trusts. Proposers are asked to present projects that address the program’s objectives to support, increase and sustain affordable rental and owner-occupied housing production in the county.
OHCD anticipates a combined total of $14 million in Ordinance 22-77 and Affordable Housing Program funds that can be awarded subject to fund allocations in the approved FY 2023-24 county budget. Proposals will be accepted electronically only through an online application platform available on the OHCD website (www.hawaiicounty.gov/ahp) and are due at 4:30 p.m. HST on June 30. These and other government efforts to support more affordable housing and social services must continue in subsequent years. Ending homelessness will take decades of effort and investment.
Paul Normann, chair of Community Alliance Partners consisting of homeless services providers, government representatives and community stakeholders, states: “As a community, we can make the changes necessary to end homelessness. Ending homelessness will not prevent all instances of households losing their housing. Ending homelessness means that we have stopped normalizing homelessness. Ending homelessness means that we have invested in sufficient resources, financial subsidies, and right-priced housing to ensure that any incidents of homelessness, when they occur, are rare, brief, and nonrecurring.
“The homeless crisis did not occur overnight, and it is not the result of the failure of individuals to ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’. It developed over decades, the result of financial and social policies that make it harder and harder for ordinary folks to be successful. The good news is that homelessness is solvable. Solving homelessness, ultimately, is good for the social well-being of our communities and the financial well-being of businesses. Ending homelessness is good for all of us.”
So, let’s keep our eye on the long-term goal and do all that we can to support those who are working diligently to end homelessness.
This column was prepared by the Vibrant Hawaii Housing Coalition. Visit www.vibranthawaii.org for more information.