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State initiatives continue to address homeless situation

MEDIA RELEASE

Initiatives to address the homeless problem in Hawaii have doubled under the Lingle-Aiona Administration. The improvements are reflected in the latest statistics from the state’s Homeless Management Information System, which provides an unduplicated count of homeless individuals over a 12-month period.

In fiscal year 2009, 4,043 persons were moved into permanent housing through State homeless programs. During the same year, 11,680 homeless people received services from eight outreach provider agencies throughout the State, and 9,483 homeless people utilized services at homeless shelters.

It is significant to note that the total statewide homeless count increased by less than one percent (52 individuals) since the previous count in January 2009. This occurred despite significant job losses and reductions in work hours due to the unprecedented economic downturn in State history.

“We are very proud of the important initiatives our Administration has implemented in recent years to assist some of Hawaii’s most vulnerable residents,” said Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona. “Our proactive plans statewide, as well as working with our neighbor island county partners to improve and assist their existing programs, have clearly played a major role in addressing chronic homelessness statewide.”

These efforts include the Housing Placement Program, which helps the homeless find affordable rental units while assisting with security or utility deposits and providing training on the responsibilities of renting.

Another key initiative is the Community Reintegration Program in Hawaii County, which provides housing and support services to people who would otherwise become homeless upon exiting from prison. The program gives these individuals the support necessary to find a job, mend broken relationships and progress toward reintegrating into their community.

The state has also been helped by federally funded programs that add significantly to the array of service options available to the homeless including the Shelter Plus Care program.

This initiative is funded by Housing and Urban Development which provides rental assistance linked to supportive services for hard-to-serve homeless persons with disabilities such as serious mental illness, chronic substance abuse, HIV/AIDS and related diseases.

In addition, the State has received new federal grants from the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing program that provide rental assistance for permanent housing.

As with clients in the Section-8 program, Shelter Plus Care clients must use 30 percent of their income for rent and the program provides the remainder in rental assistance. Hawaii now has 430 Shelter Plus Care units for the chronically homeless and 105 Veterans Administration Shelter Assistance Vouchers, which are like Shelter Plus Care vouchers specific to veterans.

Also noteworthy is the fact that the unsheltered homeless numbers fell from 2,514 in 2009 to 2,299 in 2010. This decline of 215 people speaks to the increase in the inventory of shelter units available to assist the homeless, which more than doubled over the last three years under the Lingle-Aiona Administration.

“While there continues to be a need for additional shelters in certain areas, the focus is now on transitioning individuals through the existing shelter spaces and moving on to permanent housing and independent living,” said Russ Saito, the state comptroller and homeless coordinator. “By placing the emphasis on the long term solution for homelessness – making more affordable housing available – we can be more successful in continuing to reduce our number of homeless residents.”

The state’s contribution towards the long term solution for homelessness includes two key state agencies, the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation, which has helped develop or preserve nearly 2,900 rental units statewide over the past nine years and has a plan for 5,000 new or preserved for-sale and rental housing units over the next five years, and the Homeless Programs Branch, which is being transferred to the Department of Human Services to increase its efficiency.

The Administration is working to increase the cooperation and collaboration between these two agencies and with private landlords and service providers, including proactive coordination with many of the sources of homeless constituents.

Many of veterans and residents coming out of the judiciary and public safety systems are simply not prepared to return to the community, and often times do not get the assistance they need, mentally or financially.

“Homelessness cannot be solved by the state alone and the Lingle-Aiona administration will continue to lead the effort while continuing to work with any organization and individuals to help address this important issue,” Saito said.

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