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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 12, 2006

Some say homeless funding plan unwise

By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Government Writer

BY THE NUMBERS

$30 million

Money designated by the Legislature for homeless programs

$15 million

Portion to be used to modernize and repair existing shelters, public housing

$15 million

Portion to be spent on grants for other, specific homeless programs

$5 million

Biggest grant, going to a church group for a Wai'anae homeless program

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WHERE THE GRANTS WENT

The Legislature awarded almost $15 million in grants to homeless service providers, including:

$5 million to the Hawai'i Coalition of Christian Churches for development of a housing project in Wai'anae that will include emergency, transitional and low-income rental housing, as well as related services.

$3.2 million to the counties to identify sites for temporary emergency shelters.

$2.1 million to Ohana Ola O Kahumana transitional housing program for a community center.

$2 million to Child and Family Services for construction of emergency and transitional housing for abused families with dependent children.

$690,000 to Kaua'i Economic Opportunity Inc., for an emergency homeless shelter and wastewater system, transitional housing and related buildings.

$599,161 to the Ohana Family of the Living God for a temporary mobile shelter pilot program.

$500,000 to Hawai'i Helping the Hungry Have Hope's mobile housing pilot program that will turn buses into temporary emergency shelters.

$424,420 to the Victory Ohana Prison Fellowship to assist homeless who are mentally ill, substance abusers or parolees; to establish a classroom for educational and job assistance; and to purchase a solar energy system for the shelter.

$180,000 to Catholic Charities for the Ma'ili Land Transitional Housing Program.

$50,000 to Street Beat Inc. to provide outreach services to the homeless

$80,000 to the Hawai'i County Department of Parks and Recreation for transportation for the homeless and disabled.

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Homeless programs will see a fivefold increase in state funding next fiscal year, but reviews are mixed on how effectively the $30 million will be spent.

The infusion of funding part of an almost $50 million affordable housing and homeless package passed by the Legislature is expected to increase the number of available beds in shelters, as well as the number of units ready for occupancy in public housing projects.

At a time when even the emergency shelters have 20-family waiting lists and about 9 percent of public housing units are vacant because they're in disrepair, any new money is welcome, advocates said.

"We're encouraged by the high profile that homelessness and affordable housing has had on everyone's radar," said Margot Schrire, public relations manager at the Institute for Human Services.

However, two key questions have emerged:

  • Whether more money should have been devoted to existing homeless service providers who say they might have been able to put it to use better and faster than new, unproven initiatives.

  • And whether the funded projects meet the state's long-term goal of increasing supportive housing and building up the inventory of affordable rental units.

    While the state has estimated that more than 44,000 new housing units will be needed by 2009, more than half of the homeless and affordable housing funding has been dedicated to increasing capacity in shelters instead.

    "At IHS we see the limitations of building more and more shelters because what we find is there is nowhere for us to exit our folks to," Schrire said. "There is just not the rental housing inventory that we need to help these people transition into affordable housing."

    RENTAL MATTERS

    In addition to the homeless funding, lawmakers did provide other measures to address the rental market, including increasing the percentage of the conveyance tax going toward building affordable housing units and increasing financial assistance to low-income renters.

    Some of the existing homeless service providers had expected that the administration's request for $20 million for renovations and increased services would be made available for competitive proposals after the legislative session.

    They were surprised to discover in the last days of the session that a conference committee had increased homeless allocations to $30 million, but then awarded about half of it in grants to specific projects, many of which are new initiatives.

    EXISTING SERVICES

    Darlene Hein, who heads the Waikiki Health Center's Care-A-Van Program, said there are times when grants for new programs make sense, but proven results are important, too.

    "We want to make sure there's competition and research, and that the best practices are followed," she said.

    This year she would have liked to see more money dedicated to fixing and expanding existing services, which received about $15 million.

    "I think that part of the issue for me is looking at what the needs are," she said.

    Sen. Ron Menor, D-17th (Mililani, Waipi'o), chairman of the Consumer Protection and Housing Committee, said that is exactly what the Legislature did in its effort to direct money to those who could use it most effectively and efficiently.

    "By funneling money to existing providers, it could be best utilized to address the needs of the homeless," he said.

    Grant approval included a thorough screening by House and Senate money committees and included recommendations by the Housing and Community Development Corp. of Hawai'i. Awards were made based on which programs could start up, manage and operate programs in the shortest period of time, Menor said.

    AGENCY SATISFIED

    HCDCH raised no concerns about the bill. "We got the majority of our budget request for the year and that's something that we're pleased with," said housing information specialist Adrienne Gardner. "We're pleased with the outcome of the 2006 session."

    However, she noted the grants were a departure from the way homeless services traditionally have been funded, which could be why many existing providers were caught off guard.

    In the past, HCDCH has been given a lump sum to distribute through a competitive bid process, but providers were warned ahead of time that it was likely to change this year.

    "We did try to provide them with guidance to put in a request separate from our own," Gardner said. "Some of them took advantage of that and some of them did not."

    Reach Treena Shapiro at tshapiro@honoluluadvertiser.com.