Morn­ing mis­sion

Vol­un­teers scour East Hawaii be­fore dawn for a week to help with Home­less Point in Time Count

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - FRONT PAGE - By KIRSTEN JOHN­SON

PA­HOA — When vol­un­teers ap­proached a sleepy Ron­nell Deroso on Wed­nes­day morn­ing of­fer­ing wa­ter and snacks, he hoarsely replied: “Wa­ter.”

It was just af­ter 5 a.m. and the 38-yearold was slouched be­low a dark­ened down­town Pa­hoa store­front.

Deroso sipped from the plas­tic wa­ter bot­tle as co­qui frogs chirped in the back­ground. He said he’s been con­tin­u­ally home­less about three months, af­ter leav­ing a nearby shel­ter.

“I went through a sep­a­ra­tion with my ex about a year ago,” Deroso told the Tri­bune-Her­ald when asked more about his sit­u­a­tion. “She has the house and ev­ery­thing.”

Deroso was among the hun­dreds of Hawaii Is­land res­i­dents counted dur­ing the past week through the na­tion­wide Home­less Point in Time Count.

The count is con­ducted each year to de­ter­mine the cur­rent num­ber of shel­tered and un­shel­tered peo­ple by ask­ing par­tic­i­pants where they slept on a sin­gle night in Jan­uary. It is re­quired of any ju­ris­dic­tion that re­ceives fund­ing from the U.S. Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment.

This year, the Hawaii Is­land count be­gan Jan. 23 and ended Mon­day. Each morn­ing, hours be­fore the sun rose, teams work­ing with HOPE Ser­vices — the is­land’s largest provider of ser­vices for the home­less — combed through East Hawaii look­ing for peo­ple sleep­ing on sidewalks, curled on benches and camp­ing be­low store­fronts. They scoured Keaukaha beach parks for signs of life and drove up the Ha­makua Coast look­ing for fogged up win­dows — an in­di­ca­tor of some­one sleep­ing in their car.

Teams even wove through ex­pan­sive sub­di­vi­sions of Puna to find squat­ters — peo­ple re­sid­ing on prop­er­ties they do not own.

“Good morn­ing, we’re do­ing our an­nual Point in Time Count, did you sleep here last night?” HOPE Ser­vices em­ployee Jus­tine Erickson asked a 20-some­thing woman curled in her car early Wed­nes­day morn­ing in the park­ing lot of a down­town Pa­hoa food mar­ket.

The woman, ap­pear­ing groggy, cracked her door open a bit wider as Erickson ex­plained the sur­vey and re­sources avail­able at HOPE Ser­vices.

“Thank you so much,” the woman replied.

Hawaii has the high­est per capita rate of home­less­ness na­tion­ally, though the num­bers ap­pear to be im­prov­ing. Last year, there were 953 peo­ple counted on Hawaii Is­land, down from 1,394 in 2016 and 1,241 in 2015. Statewide, there were 7,220 peo­ple counted last year, down from 7,921 in 2016 and 7,620 in 2015. Data for 2018 will be avail­able later in the year.

Jan­ice Ikeda, di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions for HOPE Ser­vices, said the drop could be at­trib­uted to mul­ti­ple fac­tors in­clud­ing ad­di­tional train­ing for those con­duct­ing the count — which im­proves sur­vey­ing ac­cu­racy — along with a more “stream­lined process (at HOPE Ser­vices) to place peo­ple faster into hous­ing.”

This year’s sur­vey also was drafted with fewer ques­tions, an ef­fort to gar­ner more par­tic­i­pa­tion. Ques­tions in­clude how long a per­son has been con­tin­u­ally home­less, their race and birth date and whether they have a sub­stance abuse prob­lem or a dis­abil­ity.

Past data shows about one-third of Hawaii Is­land’s home­less are chil­dren and about 8 per­cent are vet­er­ans, ac­cord­ing to HOPE Ser­vices’ web­site, while 42 per­cent are fam­i­lies and 7 per­cent are se­niors. About 21 per­cent have a sub­stance abuse dis­abil­ity and about 33 per­cent are men­tally ill. Data also show 54 per­cent have lived in Hawaii at least a decade.

Last year, 26 per­cent of home­less in­di­vid­u­als were in Hilo, the largest per­cent­age on the is­land and un­changed from 2016. An­other 20 per­cent were in Ka‘u, a jump from 6 per­cent in 2016, and 19 per­cent were in Kealakehe, com­pared with 20 per­cent the year prior. Pa­hoa ac­counted for 13 per­cent last year com­pared to 11 per­cent in 2016, and Keaau ac­counted for 11 per­cent in 2017 com­pared to 5 per­cent in 2016.

HOLLYN JOHN­SON/Tri­bune-Her­ald

Sha’nae Ramos, a fam­ily out­reach spe­cial­ist for hous­ing at Neigh­bor­hood Place of Puna, gives Ron­nell Deroso wa­ter and snacks Wed­nes­day morn­ing in down­town Pa­hoa. Ramos vol­un­teered with HOPE Ser­vices last week dur­ing the Home­less Point in Time Count.

HOLLYN JOHN­SON/Tri­bune-Her­ald

Jus­tine Erickson and Sha’nae Ramos get sup­plies for the Home­less Point in Time Count while out Wed­nes­day morn­ing in down­town Pa­hoa.

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