Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - By Dan Nakaso dnakaso@starad­ver­

Hawaii con­tin­ues to lead the na­tion with the high­est per capita rate of home­less­ness — de­spite re­duc­ing the size of the home­less pop­u­la­tion by nearly 9 per­cent a year ago.

The 7,220 home­less peo­ple counted across the is­lands in Jan­uary as part of an

an­nual, na­tion­wide home­less cen­sus put Hawaii’s rate at 51 home­less peo­ple for ev­ery 10,000 in­di­vid­u­als, the worst of all 50 states, ac­cord­ing to a U.S. De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment re­port re­leased Wed­nes­day.

The District of Columbia ac­tu­ally had a higher rate — 110 home­less peo­ple out of ev­ery 10,000 in­di­vid­u­als.

Among states, Hawaii’s per capita rate was fol­lowed by that of New York (45 home­less peo­ple for ev­ery 10,000 in­di­vid­u­als); Ore­gon and Cal­i­for­nia (each with 34 home­less peo­ple per 10,000); and Wash­ing­ton (29 home­less per 10,000).

Mis­sis­sippi — with 1,472 home­less peo­ple — had the na­tion’s low­est rate: five home­less for ev­ery 10,000 peo­ple.

Plan­ning al­ready has be­gun for next year’s Point In Time Count to be con­ducted across the is­lands in Jan­uary.

More than half a mil­lion peo­ple — 553,742 — were home­less across the coun­try dur­ing last year’s Point In Time Count, rep­re­sent­ing an over­all in­crease of 0.7 per­cent from 2016,

ac­cord­ing to HUD. The num­ber of home­less vet­er­ans around the coun­try also in­creased 1.5 per­cent, pri­mar­ily in Cal­i­for­nia.

In last year’s count, Hawaii saw its first de­crease in the num­ber of home­less peo­ple since 2009. There were fewer home­less counted in Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii coun­ties, but not in Honolulu, where the count grew by 19 peo­ple. Oahu’s home­less pop­u­la­tion rose 0.4 per­cent to 4,959 peo­ple — com­pared with 4,940 in 2016.

Over­all, the statewide home­less count fell by 701 peo­ple — to 7,220 from 7,921 peo­ple in 2016.

At the same time, sev­eral West Coast cities with high hous­ing mar­kets com­pa­ra­ble to Honolulu saw their home­less pop­u­la­tions jump. Los An­ge­les, for ex­am­ple, had a nearly 26 per­cent in­crease.

While Hawaii still car­ries the ig­no­ble dis­tinc­tion of hav­ing the worst per capita rate in Amer­ica, Katy Miller — Seat­tle-based re­gional co­or­di­na­tor for the U.S. In­ter­a­gency Coun­cil on Home­less­ness — said the first statewide de­cline in eight years shows that “Hawaii is on the right path.”

“Hawaii is im­ple­ment­ing re­ally promis­ing prac­tices there: in­creas­ing rapid re­hous­ing for fam­i­lies, work­ing to cre­ate and se­cure more af­ford­able hous­ing, shift­ing to a Hous­ing First model,” Miller said. “All of these things are very dif­fer­ent and take some time. But they (Hawaii of­fi­cials) are not see­ing the in­creases we’re see­ing in other West Coast cities.”

Marc Alexan­der, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the city’s Of­fice of Hous­ing, said, “We are in bet­ter shape than peo­ple re­al­ize.”

Mayor Kirk Cald­well’s ef­forts to buy and ren­o­vate build­ings for both low-in­come and home­less ten­ants “is start­ing to de­liver re­sults,” Alexan­der said. “Af­ford­able hous­ing is the is­sue of our time. That is clear. The No. 1 mes­sage is: If we can stay work­ing to­gether, be­ing good neigh­bors to each other and fo­cused on what works — namely hous­ing — we will con­tinue to see sig­nif­i­cant and mea­sur­able progress.”

Scott Mor­ishige, the state’s

home­less co­or­di­na­tor, said Hawaii is buck­ing the trends seen in other com­mu­ni­ties — es­pe­cially those with high hous­ing costs.

“We’re re­ally see­ing the start of a dif­fer­ent trend here in Hawaii com­pared to what the rest of the coun­try is look­ing at,” Mor­ishige said. “We’re fo­cused on try­ing to ori­ent all of our state con­tracts to fo­cus on a Hous­ing First ap­proach, try­ing to move peo­ple quickly off the street and into

hous­ing and get peo­ple to a more sta­ble place.”

So­cial ser­vice out­reach work­ers typ­i­cally have to make re­peated con­tacts with peo­ple who have been liv­ing on the street for years, but the ef­forts are pay­ing off, he said.

Un­til re­cently so­cial work­ers had few op­tions other than “Shel­ter? Yes or no?,” Mor­ishige said. “Now there’s a range of op­tions such as hous­ing vouch­ers, or drug treat­ment, or re­pair­ing re­la­tion­ships with fam­ily.”

“What peo­ple don’t see is that it’s not just an out­reach worker go­ing out one time,” Mor­ishige said. “It may take months for an out­reach worker to build trust with the per­son, un­der­stand the per­son’s back story and what their cir­cum­stances are. Once you un­der­stand some­one’s cir­cum­stances, you can help them think through their op­tions.”

Hawaii has the most home­less in the na­tion on a per capita ba­sis ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the U.S. De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment.

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