Year after year Hawai‘i has ranked as having one of the highest per capita homelessness rates in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress. In 2021, 18 in every 10,000 people were experiencing sheltered homelessness, according to the HUD report.

According to the Hawai‘i “Point-in-Time Count” conducted on Sunday, January 23, 2022, which produces the data for the HUD report, 2,010 people were experiencing homelessness – both sheltered and unsheltered. This was a less than one percent increase from 2020, and it is estimated there are many more homeless individuals in Hawai‘i that were not included in the count. “The overall increase in 2022 was fueled by a seven percent increase in unsheltered homelessness to 1,394 persons compared to 1,304 in 2020,” the report says, while mentioning neighbor islands saw the greatest increase in unsheltered homelessness.

“The issue of homelessness is a big issue right now at the policy level and the practice level,” says Laura Thielen, Executive Director of Partners in Care, an organization which coordinates with homeless services on the island.

How can Hawai‘i reduce homelessness?

This is a loaded question with many different proposed solutions and programs in place.

The establishment of the Statewide Office on Homeless and Housing Solutions (OHHS), which is attached to the Hawaii Department of Human Services (DHS) and headed by the Governor’s Coordinator on Homelessness, was one of those proposed solutions. This office was established by the legislature in 2022 and manages a variety of initiatives – in partnership with several public, private and non-profit organizations.

Some of the key initiatives to reduce homelessness in Hawai‘i include the following:

Can providing affordable housing also reduce homelessness?

The generally accepted answer is that more affordable housing on Hawai‘i will help to reduce – and prevent – homelessness.

“Homelessness is directly connected to many causes including the lack of affordable housing,” says Hawaii Catholic Charities, one of the many providers of homeless services that partners with the state and counties.

“Hawaii experiences a severe shortage of affordable housing amongst all its islands; our housing deficit is estimated to be over 30,000 units. The housing deficit has been devastating to low and middle-income families in our state. Hawaii has the least affordable housing market in the country,” Hawaii Catholic Charities continues.

With the high cost of living in Hawai‘i, it is understandable that more than 50% of residents are employed yet do not have enough savings for emergencies or income to cover all their basic necessities, also known as ALICE (asset limited, income constrained, employed). According to the Aloha United Way’s ALICE report, 9% of families in Hawai‘i live in poverty while 58% are considered ALICE households – meaning a loss of a job or a medical emergency could possibly cause them to not be able to make rent or mortgage payments.

Affordable housing is necessary to ensure households can pay their mortgage or rent. And new affordable housing developments for those who are homeless and/or making under 60% area median income (AMI) (along with other requirements) have been increasing in Hawai‘i.

What are some examples of affordable housing developments aimed at reducing homelessness?

Huliau Apartments is an example of repurposing vacant public buildings to add affordable housing for very-low income, previously homeless households. Huilau added 12 two-bedroom apartments at the former site of the University of Hawai‘i Maui College dorm complex. Remodeled with a $5 million Dwelling Unit Revolving Funds grant through the Hawaiʻi Housing Finance and Development Corporation with further funding from the ‘Ohana Zone for its first two years, the projected was completed in April 2021, offering 12 families who had fallen into homelessness with a stable housing option. A separate community center with laundry facilities, mailboxes and office space for social services was also added to the property.

“Huliau means turning point,” said Maui Mayor Michael Victorino. “These new apartments will offer a turning point for these families to live, work and play right here in Kahului. I want to thank members of the Maui County Council for their support. This project is a great example of what can happen when we work together.”

Kahauiki Village is an example of a public-private partnership that has the potential to house around 630 adults and children in a unique “plantation village” between Sand Island and Keehi Lagoon Park on Oʻahu. State-owned land was transferred to the City and County of Honolulu, which leased it to aio Foundation for $1 per year for 10 years. The aio Foundation secured one- and two- bedroom modular homes with a kitchen, originally built for Japan’s Tohoku earthquake and tsunami victims. The village also has childcare facilities and a meeting area for residents to receive services.

To live there for $775 per month (one bedroom) or $975 per month (two bedroom), utilities included, households must be under 50% AMI with preference given to families living in emergency or transitional shelters.

“This project is really about our children and the future of our children. If we can give them hope and a place to live with dignity, then we will hopefully prevent homelessness from repeating itself in a family,” said aio Hawaii CEO and Chairman Duane Kurisu.

The Shelter is an example of a private, non-profit solution. Launched in October 2018 on the First Assembly of God Honolulu’s land in Kahalu‘u, the site houses 12 fiberglass domes – or igloos that originally cost about $12,000 each from Alaska. The domes accommodate women and children while also engaging them in church life and education, such as personal finance and raising children. As this is a homeless shelter, many former residents have transitioned into new apartments or been reunited with their family and secured jobs. The Shelter has plans to potentially expand their housing model to other Hawai‘i neighborhoods.

“The number one priority is transformation of the heart,” says Daniel Kaneshiro, The Shelter Executive Director. “No matter when or where or what their future living situation is — whether in Hawaii or elsewhere — transformation of the heart has long-term effects on stability in their life. We help them find God and have a personal relationship with Him.”

“We must address homelessness in Hawaii,” said Governor Josh Green on his campaign website.

“…It will take compassion, commitment, and significant resources to take on this challenge — as well as leadership, political will, and bold action from our elected officials, and the cooperation of organizations across our state working together and implementing multiple approaches…Addressing and ultimately solving the challenge of homelessness is the right thing for us to do as a state — as well as the necessary, responsible, and moral thing to do.”

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