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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 17, 2002

Week dedicated to homeless

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

A march to the State Capitol, a candlelight vigil and a forum on the state's plan to end homelessness will highlight Homeless Awareness Week in Hawai'i, which begins today.

At a glance

• March and vigil: The Homeless Awareness Week march and candlelight vigil will begin at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday at South King Street and Fort Street Mall. The group will march up Fort Street Mall to Beretania Street and over to the State Capitol.

Live entertainment will begin at the Capitol at 5:50 p.m. with Kekoa & Co.

A candle-lighting ceremony expressing the theme of the event, "Together we can end homelessness," will be held at 6:15 p.m.

Homelessness Awareness T-shirts are available for $5 by calling Catherine Graham at 537-2724.

• Forum: The State Homeless Policy Academy forum will be held from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday but is by invitation only. For information call 832-5930.

Gov. Ben Cayetano proclaimed Homeless Awareness Week to coincide with National Hunger and Homeless Week.

"The important thing right now is to realize that there is a possibility of ending homelessness," said Catherine Graham, manager of volunteer services at the Institute for Human Services. "The more people we can get that point across to, the better chance we have of doing it."

Graham said church and student groups as well as service providers and many homeless people will take part in Wednesday's march.

"This is the time of year when people are opening their hearts because of the holidays and so they are always bringing in canned foods and gifts," Graham said. "We want them to open their hearts but also their minds to the fact that with a little reshuffling of our priorities we can really put a big dent in this homeless population and give people homes."

The forum, including lawmakers, government agencies and homeless service providers, will be held Friday to discuss the State Homeless Policy Academy's plan to end homelessness in Hawai'i.

The number of homeless people in Hawai'i grew marginally from 12,346 in 1994 to 12,923 in fiscal 2001, according to state figures. On O'ahu, 6,369 were counted in 1994, compared with 7,135 in fiscal 2001. Of those, 3,279 did not seek help from shelters for various reasons.

Hawai'i provides 967 beds in 24 emergency shelters statewide and in fiscal 2002 will spend $6.5 million on homeless services, $1 million of that from federal grants. The city is spending more than $6 million this year, mostly federal money, on homeless programs including emergency shelter grants.

Hawai'i is one of just eight states approved by the federal government to form a homeless "academy," or solutions working group, and bring together all agencies involved in paying for social programs to target the problem here.

Rick Velasquez, the Hawai'i coordinator of the federal program for homeless veterans and an academy member, said the group has been brainstorming for months to develop an action plan.

Velasquez said research shows that many people are well served by existing homeless programs, but 10 percent of the homeless are considered chronic and that group uses about 50 percent of resources directed to homeless care.

"... If we are providing healthcare by emergency-room service, then that is the least efficient, most expensive way," Velasquez said.

"A group of our clients is using all of that money. The money the state is obligating for all homeless people is being used up by a small group of people who show up time after time in the emergency room."

Velasquez said the homeless academy plans to target that 10 percent for directed care, which will free up much of the resources that homeless programs are expending.

The academy is bringing together as many groups as possible and trying to develop a system to track clients across various agencies. The academy also is looking into forming a mental health court, similar to drug court, to direct people with mental health problems who commit minor crimes to treatment rather than jail.

Velasquez said the group is close to finalizing a plan, but it will likely not be completed at the forum this week.

Reach James Gonser at jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2431.