The 2023 homeless point-in-time count conducted January 23-29 asked, “Where did you sleep on Sunday, January 22?”
Compared to the 2022 count, homelessness on the island of Hawaii has increased by 20%. The 2023 count shows an increase in the total number of homeless people, for both individuals and families. On the island of Hawaii, community workers and volunteers asked questions related to how long the people they encountered had been homeless, what led them to their current situation, and if they had recently arrived in Hawaii, where they came from and why did they come here
This year an additional question was asked. The question: “What can we do to help end his homelessness?” The top two responses were home insurance assistance 54% and rental assistance 41%. Additionally, 22% wanted help replacing lost or stolen documents, and 10% wanted help finding a job. Only 3% wanted help connecting with family to return home.
Clearly we have more people setting up makeshift tents and canvas structures in public places not intended for human habitation or sleeping in their cars along the highways. These are easily observable without counting a point in time. What is not so apparent 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 more than $7 million in Hawaii County homeless 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, people involved in justice and domestic violence shelter/housing services. This first year of awards also begins to lay the foundation for broad access and coordinated service delivery that includes upstream preventive services.
OHCD is currently accepting Affordable Housing Program proposals from qualified developers, eligible for-profit and nonprofit organizations, public agencies, and community land trusts. Proponents are asked to submit projects that address the goals of the program to support, increase, and sustain the production of owner-occupied and affordable rental housing in the county.
OHCD anticipates a combined total of $14 million in Ordinance 22-77 and Affordable Housing Program funds that may be awarded subject to funding appropriations 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 June 30 at 4:30 p.m. services must continue in subsequent years. Ending homelessness will take decades of effort and investment.
Paul Normann, President of Community Alliance Partners, which consists of homeless service providers, government representatives and community stakeholders, says, “As a community, we can make the changes necessary to end homelessness. Ending homelessness will not prevent all households from losing their homes. Ending homelessness means that we have stopped normalizing homelessness. Ending homelessness means we have invested in sufficient resources, financial subsidies, and affordable housing to ensure that incidents of homelessness, when they do occur, are rare, brief, and non-recurring.
“The homelessness crisis did not happen overnight, and it is not the result of people’s failure to ‘get back on their own feet.’ It developed over decades, as a result of financial and social policies that make it increasingly difficult for ordinary people to succeed. The good news is that homelessness has a solution. Solving homelessness is ultimately 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 eyes on the long-term goal and do all 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.