A seven-step program to help homeless
By Michael Ullman
While legislators are falling over themselves trying to increase funding for homeless services, what has been left out of the conversation is whether these actions really constitute a new and more effective strategy.
Despite the numerous special task forces, including the meeting called by Gov. Linda Lingle, the problem of the same players with the same vested interests and the same fear-ridden biases continues to prevent Hawai'i from developing and implementing a more bold and strategic vision to immediately reduce homelessness.
New ideas reported from the Lingle forum seem like retreads from yesteryear. More drop-in centers, coordination of services, surplus supplies and emergency services is very same old, same old. While education and training are valuable, this, too, is a dead horse that no longer qualifies for the homeless derby held in emboldened cities.
The bottom line is that too much of the money pays for old-style shelter-to-grave services and fails to radically change the current failed system. Much of the country is moving beyond this broken formula, focusing all new resources on housing homeless individuals.
With a state surplus, this is the time for bolder action. Some steps take no money. Some take significant commitment. Specifically:
The homeless and those at risk need more resources to compete in the market. All current Shelter-plus Care projects are completely booked. The city's Section 8 program has remained completely utilized. Units can be found. Steal market share for the homeless, rather than sit around waiting five years for new facilities.
That ain't gonna cut it.
A state-funded housing subsidy program would also allow Hawai'i to gain competence with a more flexible Section 8-like program that could have time limits and more strategic goals — not a lifetime voucher. Two hundred vouchers can house 200 individuals/families within six to nine months. If that works, fund more next year. The cost for a three-year pilot program would be approximately $2 million per year ($10,000 per household per year).
These are just seven immediate, new and bold steps that the state should consider.
Michael Ullman is a homeless services consultant and is ending his current term as vice chairman for planning for Partners in Care, the Oahu Homeless Coalition. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.