There is no silver bullet to end homelessness on Kauai. And there are a million reasons people end up without a safe, dry place to sleep! Thank God we’re in warm, sunny Hawaii, where it never rains.
Over half of all residents on Kauai are one paycheck from the street! Based on “Affordability of Living” – Kauai is the worst county in the nation and we have the most crowded bedrooms. So many people end up losing their homes – from the “situational homeless” (lost a job, a house, financial, medical, etc.), to drug, alcohol, and mental illness.
But, regardless of the reasons, the impact of homelessness on our services and the economy are profound. The big questions we must ask are:
• What are we currently doing to reduce homelessness?
• Is it working?
• What can we do better … now, and in the future?
There are services available for the seriously mentally ill, families, children, women, veterans and native Hawaiians. Other support systems, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Social Security Supplemental Income are provided by the state and federal government.
The only shelter on Kauai has 38 beds in Lihue and operates from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. each day. Based on the latest statistics from HUD – that would make 255 homeless unsheltered on a given night! Most homeless just can’t get to services unless they’re close. And that shelter operates on a “first-come first-served” basis – so many don’t make the journey to Lihue in case the shelter is full.
What we need is at least three smaller shelters in other population centers. These shelters could offer bed reservations for those who occupied the bed on the previous night, even if they don’t have a job, so they could have a little consistency in their lives. This is done in other shelters and provides the individual or family a sense of security so they can focus on improving their situation.
Kauai used to have a day center next to the shelter, but there is currently nowhere for the homeless to go during the day. Sure … they can go to public facilities (such as the library) or shopping areas, but they are often asked to leave.
A “family assessment center” could include services such as a place to shower, do laundry and access necessary aid … or just find a moment of “rest from the rain.”
Although Kauai has an epidemic of methamphetamine use among the homeless, in addition to alcohol, heroin and other harmful drugs, there is only one, religious-based “in-patient treatment facility.” We desperately need that, not just for the homeless, but for the health and sanity of our island home.
For so many who are living in their cars, periodically harassed by police or others, we need to create safe parking areas. There is an organization in Los Angles County that does this, providing a safe place to park each night, restroom access, a security guard, and social service resources.
And if we could get more people sheltered consistently and transition them into permanent housing, we would save a lot of taxpayer money – in terms of emergency services, upkeep at public facilities (parks/beach), and other economic impacts.
And those who could find comfort in one of these shelters or safe zones have much better odds of getting back on their feet.
Truly affordable housing is crucial to avoid this tragedy. Local people are buying less than half the houses being sold and pulling 15 percent of building permits! And – without truly affordable housing – we can never solve homelessness.
Cities in America and around the world are very successfully experimenting with “Housing First.” Advocates of “Housing First” techniques have proven that those program cost taxpayers much less because participants are less likely to use the radically expensive emergency services.
Positive, effective social support systems are crucial – to take the pressure off of all of us, mostly our homeless neighbors! We must inspire our politicians to solve this problem.
Who are you voting for? And what do they think about this? Thank you for caring.
Jim Edmonds is founder of “Truly Affordable Homes, Kauai.”