LIHUE — A federal report released Monday said Hawaii has a higher number of homeless people per capita than any other state except New York. Two-thirds of that population regularly sleep in parks or on the street and the majority are considered chronically homeless.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, 46 out of every 10,000 people in Hawaii and New York were homeless in 2018. Only Washington D.C. had higher a higher rate, with nearly one percent of its population experiencing homeless.
The total number of homeless people in Hawaii decreased nearly 10 percent since last year — from 7,220 in 2017 to 6,530 currently. And 2018 marks the second consecutive year the state posted precipitous drop in homelessness — the total was nearly 8,000 in 2016.
But numbers for the last two years only show part of the story. There are still 460 more homeless people in Hawaii than there were in 2007, when HUD first began compiling nationwide homeless population statistics with its annual “point-in-time” count.
That total represents the fourth largest overall increase in homeless population among all states, regardless of population, and runs counter to the nationwide trend showing a nearly 15 percent reduction in homelessness over the same period of time.
Demographic data in the HUD report presents other potential causes for concern for the state.
Hawaii’s individual homeless rate — a statistic that includes single adults, unaccompanied youth, and those in multiple-adult or multiple-child households — is 58 out of every 10,000 people. That number is second only to California and is more than 2.5 times the national average.
Over two-thirds of the state’s homeless population are classified as “unsheltered,” meaning they sleep in places like parks, streets or cars. There are 189 homeless children in Hawaii who are under 18 years old without a parent or guardian to care for them. Nearly three quarters of these “unaccompanied homeless youth” are also sleeping in unsheltered locations.
Hawaii also had one of the highest percentages of homeless veterans with a rate “far exceeding” the national average. There are 532 homeless vets in the state, more than half of whom are unsheltered. Since 2009, the number of veterans experiencing homelessness has increased in only five states, according to the report. Hawaii is number four on that list.
About 44 percent of the homeless population in Hawaii is “chronically homeless,” and that number has nearly doubled since 2007. The vast majority of that number are unsheltered as well, which means the state has about 1,300 people who consistently do not have a bed to sleep in.
Governor David Ige on Friday announced plans to address homelessness statewide by setting up “Ohana Zones” in four counties and signed an emergency proclamation, which will “focus on accelerating the completion of housing projects for individuals and families exiting homelessness.”
Ige’s Ohana Zones are areas to be set up on land owned by the state or county where the homeless can access housing and emergency shelter. Kauai was on the list of participating counties, but the news release gave little detail regarding future plans, stating only that money will be “set aside for various projects,” and that the Ige administration will work with Mayor Derek Kawakami “to enhance the capacity for emergency shelters.”
“More work remains to be done to address homelessness, and we must use every tool at our disposal,” Gov. Ige said in signing the emergency proclamation. “Homelessness is a top priority for my administration.”