Monday, January 5, 2009
Housing the Homeless
Committees on Housing and Human Services, chaired by Reps. Rida Cabanilla and John Mizuno, held an informational briefing on the state of homelessness in Hawaii and the challenges we face today.
Below are some of my notes on the issues that many of the human service and housing providers in attendance touched on. Agencies, organizations and homeless shelters who gave testimony include the Institute for Human Services (IHS); the Department of Human Services; Hawaii Habitat for Humanity Association; Lighthouse Outreach Center; Weinberg Village Waimanalo; Family Promise; Waikiki Health Center; Gregory House Programs; H5 Hawaii; Safe Haven; Kalihi Palama Health Center; and the Hawaii Public Housing Authority.
Darlene Hein, a homeless advocate who works at the Waikiki Health Center's homeless outreach program, talked about the need for a Return Home Program in Hawaii:
· People come to Hawaii because they think that "the hula girl's going to bring them a maitai on the beach".
· Most vagabond visitors realize within 3 months that it's not like that once they get here and want to return home but cannot afford it.
· If they stay longer, past 6 months, they get used to the homeless lifestyle in Hawaii and no longer want to go home.
· Goal of project would be to help send out-of-state homeless who cannot afford plane tickets back to the state they came from, where they are familiar with services provided, have family and friends residing there, and better access to resources.
· IHS has addressed vagabond visitors who seek to establish themselves in Hawaii through the welfare system by actively encouraging them to return home if they simply do not have the resources to survive in Hawaii.
· Creating public-private partnerships with travel and visitor industries could help fund the program.
Access to Affordable Housing
· More affordable housing is needed.
· Transitional and permanent shelters can only do so much. Where do families and individuals go if there is no affordable housing or if they simply can't afford what is supposed to be "affordable housing"?
· Wait list for public housing totals 11,800.
· How do you define affordable housing? According to some of the service providers at the briefing, affordable housing prices are still out of reach of many of their clients, especially the elderly, disabled and mentally ill living on supplemental security income ($556/mo). In Honolulu a resident would have to spend 130.4% of benefits. The neediest in Hawaii are priced out.
Job Training and Securing Employment
· Biggest problem at Next Step is getting people jobs.
· Homeless who have been arrested or convicted of a crime have a tougher time getting employment.
Overrepresentation of Micronesians in Homeless Shelters
· IHS recommends that the state push for dialogue between the U.S. government and Micronesian governments to address the migration of citizens who are unable to support themselves when arriving in Hawaii.
· Many Micronesians have migrated to Hawaii seeking a better life under the Compacts of Free Association (COFA).
· IHS is concerned that too much space in public housing, transitional and permanent shelters are being occupied by Micronesian immigrants. "It would seem unfair for a huge preponderance of public housing to be occupied by COFA families when so many of our local residents are also in need as indicated by the very long waitlist to enter public housing," said Connie Mitchell in testimony. Mitchell is the executive director of IHS.
· Although not advocating for deportation, Mitchell emphasizes that COFA clearly states that "those who cannot show sufficient means of support in the US are deportable."
· Main point: Immigrants must have sufficient funds to relocate and/or jobs secured in advance before entering the state in order to avoid an increase in the homeless immigrant population.