Homeless population on Oahu rises 28.2%
|||Displaced homeless go inland|
By Will Hoover
Advertiser Wai'anae Coast Writer
By Will Hoover
The homeless population on O'ahu rose nearly 30 percent in the past two years, new figures show, despite recent efforts to address one of Hawai'i's most critical social problems.
The number of homeless in January was 3,750, up 28.2 percent from January 2005, according to a count of seven O'ahu areas by the SMS marketing research company for the City and County of Honolulu. A state count, also in January, concluded the number of O'ahu homeless was more than double the city count at 7,825.
The city survey showed the Wai'anae Coast has overtaken Downtown Honolulu as the area with the greatest number of homeless, followed by the Wahiawa-North Shore area.
On a positive note, Downtown Honolulu showed a dramatic decrease — the only area to do so — with the number of homeless down 23 percent from two years ago. That decrease coincides with the opening of a state shelter in Kaka'ako.
The report focused on the "unsheltered homeless," which excludes homeless people staying in private or public shelters.
The number of homeless in shelters rose significantly, the report said.
The report confirms that homelessness is a growing problem on O'ahu, and on the Wai'anae Coast in particular. But it also bolsters the notion that those living in 16 miles of tents along the coast are largely lower-income wage earners caught between runaway rents and a shrinking supply of living quarters.
Because of the transient nature of homeless populations, it's virtually impossible to get an exact count, and the actual number may be higher than that cited in the city report, officials said. The percentage increase from 2005, however, should be accurate because similar methodologies were used in the two studies.
While the Wai'anae Coast has the largest population of people with no place to live, it also has one of the lowest percentages of chronic homeless people, or those who have been homeless for more than a year, or three times in the past four years, and have a disability.
The report showed the Wai'anae Coast has the largest percentage of homeless families on O'ahu (37 percent compared with 19 percent in the Wahiawa to North Shore district and 17 percent in the Upper Windward district), making it the visible face of homelessness in the state.
Kaulana Park, the state's homeless solutions coordinator for the Wai'anae Coast, said the state is on track in its effort to end homelessness on O'ahu's western beaches within five years.
"That continues to be our focus," he said.
The state has opened two emergency shelters in recent months, one in Kalaeloa and the other in Wai'anae, and Park said it's moving forward on its 80-unit Ma'ili Villages transitional shelter off St. Johns Road. He said that facility should be completed in about a year.
Other transitional housing facilities also are in the works, such as the 72-unit Kahikolu housing in Wai'anae.
The growth in the homeless population should not be overwhelming if the state sticks with its five-year game plan, he said.
"Look at the Wai'anae emergency shelter," he said. "If 300 people from the Wai'anae Coast move in there by June and all of them rotate out in a year or less into transitional, or maybe even permanent housing, and then there's an influx of 300 more who come in from the beaches — in five years time, if all goes well, you've got 1,500 who've gone through that first stage at just that one location."
Add in the population at the Kalaeloa shelter, and the numbers nearly double, Park said. He noted, though, that it's vital for affordable housing and rental units to begin to appear soon.
"If the average person goes through one year of emergency shelter and two more years in transitional shelter, you've got a three-year window," he said. "So within three years' time, we would have to have produced a good portion of the affordable rentals, or opportunities for people to get into permanent housing."
Alice Greenwood, a full-blooded Hawaiian who became homeless last year for the first time at age 60, isn't convinced the supply of affordable housing will increase.
While she praised the state's efforts in providing emergency and transitional shelters, she said much of the public — after first being sympathetic to the homeless plight — has become resistant to helping those who can't afford a place to live.
"What we're fighting right now is this 'not in my neighborhood' attitude," said Greenwood, who lives at the Wai'anae homeless shelter. "Already there are people who don't want us to have the Ma'ili Villages facility. So we're fighting the opposition of the landowners because they don't want us there."
She wonders what happened to the aloha.
"We've got to learn how to get along together," she said. "If we do that, everybody wins."
The new report merely highlights the need, she said.
The federally mandated point-in-time count in Hawai'i was part of a nationwide project conducted by thousands of surveyors who fanned out across the country between 6 and 10 p.m. on a certain night during the last week in January. Their mission was to find and interview unsheltered homeless persons.
The entire process conformed to strict U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requirements, and the methodologies used were very similar to a count done in 2005.
On Maui, Kaua'i and the Big Island, FAQ Hawaii Inc. was contracted to handle the point-in-time report for the state. With a total unsheltered homeless count of 1,565, those islands showed a modest 1 percent increase in 2007, compared with the 2005 count.
The O'ahu point-in-time report showed a 28.2 percent increase compared with 2005, with the largest portion of unsheltered persons, 532, clustered along the Wai'anae Coast. On the same night the count was conducted on O'ahu — Jan. 28 — the Honolulu Department of Community Services also conducted a sheltered homeless count on O'ahu, in part, to offset the possibility of duplication.
The O'ahu numbers were considerably lower than those compiled on the same day by the Hawai'i Public Housing Authority. The SMS report listed several reasons why their figures skewed lower, including rain on the night of the count, earlier police evacuations of some areas, and a reluctance on the part of many homeless to participate.
"Survey respondents told interviewers that these missing people were at work, visiting with friends and family, finding food, or otherwise engaged off-site," the report stated.
Sandra Miyoshi, homeless branch administrator for the state housing agency, said O'ahu's homeless population could be more than twice the 3,750 total unsheltered and sheltered persons cited in the SMS count.
Miyoshi explained that, unlike other states, Hawai'i funds all homeless outreach agencies and therefore service providers are required to submit specific detailed data.
Miyoshi said those figures are more accurate because they reflect the number of unduplicated unsheltered and sheltered persons actually using homeless services. According to those figures, O'ahu's total homeless population comes to 7,825.
"We can authenticate every single person on our database," Miyoshi said. "And in fact, we have identifiers for them. We know why they're homeless, we know what their ethnicity is, we know how long they've been homeless."
While the numbers are helpful, Park said the important thing is to complete the solution process.
"We knew going in that Wai'anae had the largest visible homeless population, although we didn't know what the true number was," he said. "We're not going to get too caught up in the numbers because we can't get an exact number."
Success will be measured, he said, by how many people are no longer visible on the beaches, and by how many have gone through the shelter process, have improved their lives, and have moved into some kind of permanent housing.
Reach Will Hoover at firstname.lastname@example.org.