LIHUE — A January survey found Kauai’s homeless population rose 51 percent from 2018, but officials behind the report say that’s due to improved planning and execution, not more homeless moving here.
“Leadership is more confident that the 2019 results more accurately portray the extent of homelessness on island,” the report says.
Bridging the Gap, a coalition of agencies working to end homelessness on neighbor islands, presented the results of its 2019 Homeless Point in Time Count Tuesday.
It reported Kauai had 443 homeless, well up from 293 in 2018, but close to the 412 counted in 2017 and 442 in 2016, which they believe is more accurate.
It found that on neighbor islands, overall homelessness decreased by 2 percent, from 2,035 persons in 2018 to 1,995 persons in 2019; family homelessness decreased by 18 percent, from 216 families in 2018 to 177 families in 2019; veteran homelessness decreased by 3 percent; and youth homelessness decreased by 11 percent.
Hawaii Island’s homeless rate decrease was the largest in the state at 21 percent.
“Even though the data shows that homelessness is on the decline, there is still much work to do. We need to continue to invest in affordable housing, and maintain Housing First and Rapid Re-housing programs,” said Maude Cumming, previous Chair of Bridging the Gap.
Every January, counties across the nation conduct the Homeless Point in Time Count, an annual survey of people experiencing homelessness on a given night. This year, volunteers canvassed parks, beaches, and other areas, asking people, “Where did you sleep on January 22nd?”
The County of Kauai agreed the rise in homeless numbers for Kauai was not surprising.
“This year’s program included an increased number of volunteers who assisted with the county, and improved partnership between the state, county, and all stakeholders involved in the execution,” according to a county statement.
The county said it is committed to assisting its homeless population through various programs, which include the Kauai County Housing Agency Tenant Based Rental Assistance program, along with HUD Housing Choice Voucher federal program that helps subsidize rent for low-income tenants.
As of April 2019, the county provided assistance to 696 families on the island affected by homelessness. In total, $6.9 million in rental assistance subsidies were paid out for 2018, but the opportunity exists to serve 750 families, according to county officials.
Under Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami’s administration, the county offers a newly-created Office of Human Concerns, called “Hale Kokua”.
Additionally, the Kauai Community Alliance, the local chapter of Bridging The Gap, works with agencies to address homeless issues and provide assistance.
Gov. David Ige’s Emergency Proclamation and Act 209 appropriated $30 million to establish ‘Ohana Zones on every major island.
“The County’s vision is to develop a transit-ready affordable housing project in close proximity with the existing services and programs of the Kauai Economic Opportunity,” according to a county statement. “To do this, we see a great value in the potential use of the State’s Pua Loke Arboretum in Lihue for a future ‘Ohana Zone affordable housing project.”
Oahu’s Point in Time Count was not part of Tuesday’s report.