Unsheltered homeless may gain housing priority
By Rob Perez
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Rob Perez
The state is still considering changes to a controversial policy assigning preferences for hard-to-get public housing, but a decision won't come for at least another month.
The current policy gives preference to, among other groups, people living in homeless shelters who are complying with a social services plan. But homeless people living on the beach, in their cars or in other makeshift quarters get no preference, a situation that critics say is unfair.
Board members of the Hawai'i Public Housing Authority yesterday discussed pros and cons of possible changes, heard recommendations from several people attending the monthly board meeting and then scheduled a decision for next month's meeting.
Shane Yaw, an advocate for the poor, suggested that people living under the stars be given preference over those in shelters because their need for housing is greater. But at the same time, he said, the state should make the screening process for drug abuse and other problems more stringent to make the public-housing environments safer.
John Robert Unruh, a Legal Aid Society of Hawai'i attorney, questioned whether requiring a homeless person to comply with a social services plan should be a blanket requirement, noting that some people are capable of keeping a job and paying rent without help from a social worker. A social services plan provides clients with life-skills training to help turn their lives around.
The housing board previously approved a proposed policy that eliminates the shelter requirement and establishes three preference categories of equal weight: domestic violence victims, families involuntarily displaced and homeless people who are or have participated in a homeless program and are complying with a social services plan.
Now the board is considering whether to amend that proposal again before holding public hearings on the changes.
Board member Carol Ignacio of the Big Island said agencies have a difficult time providing social services plans when dealing with transient clients such as those on the beach.
But if being in a shelter is a requirement for preference, shelter spaces are so scarce, especially on the Neighbor Islands, that many unsheltered homeless will "almost never have an opportunity to get into public housing," she said.
About 12,000 people are on a wait listing for federally subsidized public housing in Hawai'i, and the waits average three to six years.
Reach Rob Perez at email@example.com.