Oahu homelessness jumps nearly 12%

May 16—1/3

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For the Point in Time Count on Oahu, social workers, government officials and volunteers conducted a one-day survey of homeless people across the island in January. A homeless encampment is seen along South Beretania Street Tuesday in Honolulu.


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Gov. Josh Green, right, and Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi spoke during a news conference Wednesday in Iwilei. They spoke about ongoing efforts to address homelessness.


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Pictured at top is a homeless encampment along South King Street in Honolulu.


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The number of homeless people on Oahu rose nearly 12% between January 2023 and the latest census conducted on Jan. 23, for a total islandwide homeless population of 4,494, according to data released Wednesday.

The latest Point in Time Count survey revealed troubling trends:

>> Some 62% of Oahu's homeless were living "unsheltered" compared with other homeless people who were temporarily in shelters and other situations.

>> The majority of the homeless population, 51%, described their ethnicity as Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

Of those living unsheltered:

>> 20% of adults were 60 years old or older.

>> 10% were military veterans.

>> 12 minors were "unaccompanied."

>> 40% were chronically homeless.

>> 33% reported mental illness.

>> 26% reported substance abuse disorder.

>> 22%, or 2,433 people, were survivors of domestic violence.

The Waianae Coast had the largest concentration of homeless people with 783, or 28% of Oahu's unsheltered population. In 2023, 630 unsheltered homeless people were counted in the area which only has two homeless shelters.

Out of Waianae's unsheltered homeless population, 54% are chronically homeless and 41% are Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

State Rep. Darius Kila (D, Nanakuli-Maili) said frustrations over homeless people living along the Waianae Coast, in general, have replaced compassion and empathy.

In his grandparents' day, Kila said, homeless people were generally respectful, clean and considerate of their surroundings.

Today, he said, large encampments generate tons of trash and residents don't feel safe using public beaches and parks.

"The concern is the rampant criminal activity that has come out of some of the homeless encampments, where access is impeded and the situation has gone beyond cleanliness," Kila said. "These are areas that are publicly occupied and the people living nearby have been patient. But there is no patience or tolerance when their areas and homes are now being affected by unhoused folks that jeopardize their safety. It's about protecting their community. ... Often it seems we are begging for help and solutions and I empathize with the park staff that have to deal with constant vandalism and trash."

The newest Point in Time Count numbers represent an 11.6% jump from 2023.

In January 2023, 4,028 people on Oahu were homeless — or living "in our shelters, streets, beaches, cars, or other places not meant for human habitation," according to Partners in Care, which coordinates Oahu's Point in Time Count. The annual count is part of a nationwide head census of homeless populations.

The 2023 numbers represented a 2% increase from the 3,951 people who were counted as homeless on Oahu in January 2022.

In 2022, Hawaii had the second-highest per capita rate of homelessness in the nation, according to Gov. Josh Green, who has made reducing homelessness one of the cornerstones of his administration.

In his January State of the State address, Green said 6,223 people across the islands were homeless — or 43 out of every 10,000 residents — which was more than double the national rate of 18 per 10,000 people.

The neighbor island Point in Time Count numbers from January are expected to be announced later.

On Oahu, social workers, government officials and volunteers fanned out across the island to conduct a one-day survey of homeless people, asking them where they slept the night before, on Jan. 22.

The respondents were divided among seven regions.

Homeless people in the Waianae Coast area most commonly cited inability to pay rent and loss of money as their primary reason for being homeless.

The Waianae Coast's unsheltered homeless population was followed by the 659 people counted in the area that includes downtown, Kalihi and Nuuanu — up 24% from 530 people counted in 2023.

This year, 57% of the area's unsheltered homeless were chronically homeless and the average age was 50 years old. Like homeless people along the Waianae Coast, they also cited inability to pay rent and loss of money as their primary reason for being homeless.

East Honolulu had 548 homeless people living unsheltered, a 5% increase from the 520 counted in 2023.

This January, 70% of East Honolulu's unsheltered homeless were boys and men — Oahu's largest gender difference — and 63% of everyone surveyed was considered chronically homeless. The most-cited primary reason for being homeless was substance use and job loss.

The Ewa/Kapolei area had 428 unsheltered homeless, which was up 42% from the 301 counted in 2023. The average age this year was 47 and the most-cited reason for being homeless was "family issues" and substance abuse.

From Kaneohe to Waimanalo, 173 unsheltered homeless people were counted in January, compared with 170 in 2023. Men and boys made up 67% of the homeless population and the primary causes of being homeless were substance use and "argument."

From Wahiawa to the North Shore, 130 unsheltered homeless people were counted, down 14.5% from the 152 in 2023. Some 70% of the area's homeless were considered chronically homeless in January and the primary causes of homelessness were job loss and inability to pay rent.

The Upper Windward side also saw a drop in its unsheltered population, down to 45 from the 54 counted in 2023. Only 27% were considered chronically homeless in January — the lowest of any Oahu region by far — and the average age was 46.

Following the release of the latest Point in Time Count numbers, Mayor Rick Blangiardi and Gov. Josh Green appeared in Iwilei near the Institute for Human Services and the city's growing complex of homeless-­related services and said Oahu's homeless situation could have been much worse following the economic uncertainly that came with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite widespread concerns of mass evictions of working families, Oahu's homeless numbers this year were essentially "flat" compared to five years ago before the pandemic, Blangiardi said.

The city successfully leveraged federal funds to help financially struggling families get rehoused during the COVID era — or stay housed through one-time rent or utility payments, he said.

In all, he said, 24,000 families were helped.

"I know a lot more people could have become homeless," Blangiardi said.

He and Green spoke about the many efforts that continue to reduce homelessness as they stood in front of one of the city's Crisis Outreach Response and Engagement — or CORE — vehicles.

CORE social workers and medical and mental health specialists respond to homeless calls to provide services including efforts to get homeless people into shelters, if not find them permanent housing.

State homeless coordinator John Mizuno said the Legislature provided more funding this year to fly homeless people with mainland ties back to the continent as long as someone on the other end pledges to help them, rather than impose more homeless people on another community.

Working with IHS, Mizuno said 17 homeless people with mainland ties have been returned in just the last two weeks.

Historic tax cuts passed by the Legislature this year also will mean more money for every island family, Green said, helping to ease the risk of financial trouble that "will help keep people housed."

And Green pledged to continue building more tiny-home "kauhale" communities to provide housing that comes with social services to help deal with residents' issues.

Seven have been built so far and 14 more are in the works, most of them on Oahu.

Green also highlighted his student loan payment program which began last year to retain and recruit health care workers, including social service workers, to help fill Hawaii's health care worker shortage while providing more professionals to address island homelessness.

Both Green and Blangiardi pledged to push to find ways to reduce homelessness, with Green calling the situation "an incredible challenge."

Following Wednesday's release of Oahu's latest homeless numbers, Blangiardi said, "I need to own this."

By the numbers

11.6%: Increase compared to January 2023

51%: Oahu homeless who were Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander

17%: Increase of homeless people living "unsheltered" in January compared to homeless people who were "sheltered"

3,169: Number of homeless people age 25 or above

647: Number of homeless minors

12: Number of homeless minors who were "unaccompanied"

Source: Partners In Care