Gov. Ige shares progress on addressing homelessness

Governor Ige talked about the progress made on combatting homelessness and housing affordability in his State of the State Address earlier this week. Governor Ige has made housing and homelessness a top priority for his administration, addressing the issue through the creation of affordable housing, through work with Health and Human Services, and through public safety.

“Our hope is that homelessness will be rare, brief, and non-recurring,” said Scott Morishige, Coordinator on Homelessness at the Governor’s Office when asked about the work the administration has done on homelessness.

The administration has increased financing for affordable development and existing infrastructure. As Governor Ige mentions in his address, the state is on track to have 10,000 units of new housing units by 2020 with 5,300 already constructed, according to Morishige.

HHS has worked to implement evidence-based approaches, including expanding the Housing First Program to neighbor islands and creating the Rapid Rehousing Program. The Family Assessment Center in Kaka’ako, which is run by Catholic Charities Hawai’i, has placed 91 percent of homeless families into permanent housing and families are placed in an average of 77 days.

HHS is also requesting an amendment to Hawaii’s 1115 waiver to provide supportive housing services to Medicaid enrollees who are chronically homeless and also have a behavioral or physical illness or a substance abuse diagnosis.

Governor Ige’s administration is also working to create new diversion programs, such as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion or LEAD. In LEAD, individuals are referred to individualized case management services instead of being charged with low-level offences.

Governor Ige’s remarks on homelessness are included below. His complete address can be read here.

When we say ʻohana, we truly mean nobody gets left behind.

For those who want to live in Hawai‘i, probably no issue is more challenging than finding a decent, affordable place to live. And probably no issue challenges us as a society more than the daily sight of those who are now living on our streets and in our parks.

We have dedicated more money to mental health treatment and services, including to our homeless population. We have initiated the largest annual increase in production of affordable housing with thousands of new units. We’re on track to meet our goal of 10,000 new housing units by 2020, with at least 40 percent affordable. I’m requesting $100 million to maintain the momentum and produce more affordable homes across the state.

It has been my firm belief that the state must remain committed to developing and delivering Hawaiian homelands to beneficiaries. In 2016, we provided $24 million in funding to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. This was the highest level of funding in the department’s 95-year history and more than double what had been set aside previously.

For its part, Hawaiian Home Lands has been ramping up development of vacant and turn-key lots. More than 220 lots were awarded in 2017 and that number will more than double in 2018. We’ve also worked hard with the department to spend down federal funds and identify alternative sources of revenue that can be used to sustain the agency over time

Our “Housing First” policy focuses on transitional housing as a way to get people into permanent housing. The New Kaka‘ako Family Assessment Center moves families off the streets and into permanent housing in less than 90 days. A “special team” in public housing reduced the vacant unit turnaround time from 267 days to just 7 days. And our landlord summits increased the number of landlords willing to rent to families transitioning out of homelessness.

Even in the tragedy that is homelessness, there are significant signs that these policies are starting to work. Homelessness is down 9 percent statewide – the first decline in eight years.

There’s more to be done for sure. We continue our efforts to offer services to those who have so far refused to leave the streets to move into a better life. We have set aside monies in this year’s budget to support more progress on the homelessness front. Our budget request also includes $15 million in additional funding for Housing First initiatives, outreach services and maintaining safety in our public places.

We also know how important community partners have been in tackling this challenge. Take Kahauiki Village, a permanent housing project for homeless families launched by local businessman and philanthropist Duane Kurisu. Duane brought together city, state, nonprofits and businesses to make the village a reality in record time. The first 30 families recently moved in.