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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Affordable housing is critical to Hawai'i

By Margot Schrire

On behalf of the approximately 6,000 Hawai'i residents who are homeless on any given night, mahalo! Caring community members, taxpayers wanting to see their hard-earned dollars make a difference, homeless service providers and people struggling with a housing crisis are encouraged to see homelessness and the lack of affordable housing so prominently on the radar.

The lack of affordable housing affects us all. Most visible are our families and individuals living in our parks, beaches and in their cars.

At the Institute for Human Services, Hawai'i's largest emergency homeless shelter, we have 52 families on our waiting list. Clearly, Hawai'i needs more housing for its people.

While we are encouraged to see the affordable housing measures coming before our Legislature, we must not become complacent. If we are serious about addressing the problem of homelessness, we must ensure that the affordable housing to be developed includes units for island residents who earn 30 percent and below the median income. If this group is not included, the number of families becoming homeless will continue to rise.

The governor's proposed $10 million to renovate and repair existing homeless shelters is very timely. Our shelters have struggled for years with inadequate funding to take care of the most basic repairs.

At IHS we have a long list of necessary repairs, including plumbing and installing solar water heating. With approximately 400 guests a night needing hot showers, you can imagine what our utility bill looks like. Solar heating will help us reduce our monthly operating costs, a simple yet sound investment in our ability to serve those most in need.

The legislative packages we are seeing also include significant increases in funding for supportive housing. This increase offers a tremendous boost to our ability to actually reduce the number of chronically homeless individuals and families in our state. It shows that our leaders are listening.

While many people feel overwhelmed by homelessness, the good news is that there are solutions to ending chronic homelessness. The answer lies in permanent supportive housing. This program helps people end their homelessness through placing qualifying individuals in permanent housing. The support doesn't end there. Ongoing case management is the key ingredient.

Permanent supportive housing does end chronic homelessness, and at IHS we have seen more than 80 percent of our former guests remain stable and in housing. To continue our work in reducing the numbers of chronically homeless individuals, we need ongoing funding for supportive services. The proposed $10 million increase is a big step in the right direction.

This legislative session we will be watching closely as our decision-makers are presented with the opportunity to make a significant dent in the lack of affordable housing and the shocking rise in homelessness.

Through working together, listening and acting, we can make profound changes in our state. The keys are affordable housing that is truly affordable and doesn't forget those earning 30 percent and below of median income, and funding for supportive housing and homeless services.

Margot Schrire is public relations manager for the Institute of Human Services and chairwoman of Partners in Care, O'ahu Continuum of Care. She wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.