LIHUE — Darrell Major has been sleeping on the streets of Lihue for several months while he looks for a roof to go over his head.
The former Californian said he’s been living on Kauai for 20 years and only knows of two places to find advertisements for rentals — the newspaper and Craigslist.
“I wish someone would tell me (about other resources),” Major said.
Major is confident he’ll be able to find the ideal one- or two-bedroom unit for between $1,000 and $1,500 a month plus utilities once his girlfriend returns from the Mainland in a few days.
“It’ll be no problem if I can find something available,” he said.
It’s a story echoed across the state, and officials acknowledged Tuesday that connecting houseless or at-risk people with the services they need is paramount to solving Hawaii’s homeless crisis.
“Step one would be to figure out what resources are out there, and for many people they don’t know where the resources are,” said state Rep. Andria Tupola at a homeless briefing hosted by the state House Health and Human Services Committee.
January 2017’s Point in Time Count revealed Hawaii has 7,220 homeless people, which places the state with the highest number per capita of homeless people in the nation.
At the same time, the Point in Time data shows a 9 percent decrease statewide, and that’s the first decrease seen in eight years, according to Scott Morishige, homeless coordinator for Gov. David Ige.
“Look at what’s happening with the rest of the country,” he said. “California saw an increase, we saw a decrease. We’re making progress.”
Morishige continued: “We’re implementing systemic changes across multiple systems. There’s no one cause, no one reason, and no one agency responsible.”
In a study released Tuesday by Aloha United Way, a population was defined called the Alice population, those that are above poverty level but below a level of self-sufficiency.
The results of the survey showed that 48 percent of the people in Hawaii are within the Alice population — or below. Kauai had the lowest number, at 43 percent.
“When a family is in this Alice population and they suffer a minor financial crisis, they have nothing to fall back on and in many cases they wind up becoming homeless,” said Norm Baker of Aloha United Way.
He continued: “We believe a homeless diversion and prevention program needs to be part of the effort.”
A multi-pronged approach is needed to address the homeless crisis, officials and experts said, and that means a combination of government efforts, nonprofit-led programs and creative thinking.
On Kauai, services come through places like the Family Life Center, Kauai Economic Opportunity and Catholic Charities Hawaii, which recently added two new programs and changed locations.
Both programs have a low-barrier approach in which staff members work with clients to get them into houses, and then provide “wrap-around” services after clients are securely housed, according to Jillian Okamoto, who oversees CCH’s housing programs statewide.
Those programs are the Housing First program and the Rapid Rehousing program.
“Where they differ is at the clientele base,” Okamoto said. “Housing First is those folks who are chronically homeless and have mental-health or substance-abuse disorders, the high-risk people on the street.”
The Rapid Rehousing program is aimed at families and individuals who are in shelters, are living unsheltered, or are at risk of becoming homeless.
Those who are interested in taking part in programs with CCH have to go through a screening process, and those who ask for help at the Kauai CCH office will get it.
“Our staff are trained in triaging someone’s situation,” Okamoto said. “Whether or not we can assist them, we see which programs they need.”
CCH is one of dozens of nonprofits, government organizations, law enforcement, health and social workers, and faith-based organizations that are mobilizing to help lower the number of homeless people in Hawaii.
A Medicaid waiver amendment is on the table, for instance, that would provide tenancy support services for the chronically homeless — which means helping with the housing search, housing support plans and moving.
In addition, the tenancy support services would offer training in tenant responsibilities, how to be a good neighbor, and landlord dispute resolution.
“Many of these services are being provided today, but aren’t being paid for by Medicaid funds,” said Judy Mohr Peterson, division Med-QUEST division administrator for the state Department of Human Services.
She continued: “We need to have the provision of services themselves, we need to share data and information, and we need to make sure that it’s coordinated.”
Mohr Peterson said the request for the Medicaid waiver is resting with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) — the federal regulatory body for Medicare and Medicaid — and they’re hoping for a reply to their request.
Dr. Glenn Pang, gastroenterology specialist on Oahu, has partnered with other healthcare workers, mental-health workers and interested individuals to address homelessness.
“We approach communities and ask them what they want, and it’s a comprehensive plan,” Pang said. “We’re project-based on our plans and we’re handling things project by project helping the homeless.”
He continued: “I want to develop microhomes and little homes that people can live in.”
While efforts of individuals and organizations were highlighted at the Tuesday House Health and Human Services Committee’s briefing, the need to work together was the main point.
“I’m asking for a paradigm shift,” said Rep. John Mizuno, committee chair. “We need to work together and collaborate and see if we can significantly address this; break down the silos.”