Mental illness, drug abuse common
|||Street dwellers find a home|
By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Rod Ohira
A shirtless young man wearing long basketball shorts darts into the intersection of Kamehameha Highway and Waimano Home Road.
He puts down a paper cup in the middle of the roadway, makes hand gestures to a diamondhead-bound motorist at a traffic light, picks up the cup and zig-zags his way through moving mauka-bound traffic before disappearing into a shopping center.
Richard Jang of the Pearl City Crime Reduction Unit spotted the young man before he first stepped onto the roadway. Jang knew him by name.
"We've arrested him maybe six times, mostly for petty theft," Jang said. "All the businesses around here are fed up with him because he goes into places and just grabs stuff. Criminally, he won't fly because he doesn't fit the criteria. He's MH-1 (mentally ill). We've tried to get him admitted for evaluation but he doesn't fit the criteria for mental health, either, so they won't take him.
"Dealing with him is one of the most frustrating things. He just wanders around until he gets hungry. He says he's from California but we don't know where he came from; he just showed up one day (in Pearl City) over a year ago."
Many of the chronically homeless on the streets suffer from mental illness, said Lynn Maunakea, Institute of Human Services executive director.
"It's no surprise that numbers are under-reported because who is going to tell someone their mental health history if they have one?" Maunakea said. "At IHS, we started assessing women and found over 80 percent could use mental health service. I'm not a psychiatrist but I agree with Kenneth Minkoff, a national mental health expert, who says with the population of chronically homeless, the best practice is to assume there are both mental health and chemical involvement issues."
Providing housing for the chronically homeless, those with mental illness and substance abuse problems, is the focus of Homeless Awareness Week, which begins today. Housing coupled with supportive services is considered the top priority by homeless service providers toward ending homelessness in Hawai'i.
Maunakea said the mental health of the homeless "runs the gamut" from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and paranoia to personality disorders. In many cases, chemical dependency is a contributor, she added.
The face of the homeless is varied, however.
Margot Schrire, chairwoman of Partners in Care (a coalition of 50 service providers), said those on the street also include runaways, victims of domestic violence, and those in debt who have lost their jobs.
"People feel safe it will never happen to them but so many are just one paycheck away from being homeless," Schrire said. "The reality is many of them did not choose to be homeless and never thought it would happen to them, either."
Reach Rod Ohira at email@example.com.