Housing First!

By Jasmine Castro
November 16, 2013
LCC-Wai’anae student
Eng 200
Instructor Danny Wyatt
Leeward Community College-Wai’anae

[Note from the instructor: Click here for details re the assignment. -Danny Wyatt]

Over the past few decades, homelessness in the United States has become a tremendous problem and is at an astonishing estimate of 633,000 people.  In the last decade, the country has been trying to address this issue and its’ homeless population has decreased by 17 percent (Lurie).  Among the states with the biggest homeless problem is Hawaii with an estimate of 6,335 homeless statewide and 4,556 of them are on the island of Oahu alone (The State of Hawaii).  The issue with homelessness in Hawaii has become so huge that it is attracting the attention of our tourists, appalling them and keeping them from revisiting.  It is noticeable enough to anyone who lives here or visits.  Yet, it is even bigger than we see and Hawaii needs a solution to get the homeless people into houses.

According to Hawaii’s annual point-in-time count, from 2012 to 2013, the island of Hawaii saw a decrease of 9.7 % in total homeless population and Kauai had a decrease of 13.9 %.  However, only half of the islands seen a decrease in homelessness. Maui had a 0.2 percent increase and Oahu had a 4.7 percent increase in homeless overall, with an 11.2 percent increase in unsheltered homeless. On Oahu, of the 4,556 homeless persons, 1,465 of them are unsheltered.  These are the ones sleeping at the beaches, parks, churches, and other public places as well as in their cars.  A Majority of our island’s homeless population resides in Honolulu, with an estimated 908 homeless persons, and in Waianae with 344.  Chronic homelessness is increasing on our island by 4.1 % in the last year.  On Oahu, 42.3 % of homeless persons and 40.4 % of the statewide homeless population are chronically homeless (The State Of Hawaii).  Chronic homeless persons are defined as those who have continuously been homeless for one year or at least four times in the last three years and have a disabling condition or mental illness (Henry-White).  A Majority of the unsheltered homeless population in Hawaii may qualify as a chronic homeless person.  During the 2013 point-in-time count, 66.6 percent of unsheltered homeless individuals said they have been homeless for over a year while 23.4 % have been homeless at least four times.  Of unsheltered homeless families, 58.8 % have been homeless over a year (The State Of Hawaii).  With almost half of Hawaii’s homeless population being chronically homeless, it proves to be an even bigger problem than it seems.

Very often, homeless persons are accused of being drug addicts, but that is not always the case.  The major reasons for homelessness include unemployment, lack of health care or mental-health services, psychological disorders, physical disability, substance or domestic abuse, lack of affordable housing, mortgage foreclosures, and release from prison.  In Hawaii, the top reasons are economic, substance abuse and domestic situations (Blair).  On Oahu, 621 homeless persons have a chronic substance abuse problem and 280 homeless persons are victims of domestic violence (The State Of Hawaii).  In an interview with Alice Greenwood, she shared her reasons for becoming homeless twice in her life – in the 80’s and in 2005.  The first time, she became homeless due to her husband’s injury which kept him from working.  They managed to get back on their feet after two months of being homeless.  Then, in 2005, she was a disabled widow with a five-year-old foster child.  She had applied for retirement several years before, but it did not take effect by then.  Being unable to work and without retirement funds or any income, she and her child became homeless.  She eventually moved into an emergency shelter home at the Waianae Civic Center and after two years there, she moved in with family and is still with them today (Greenwood).  It is easy to assume a homeless person is on drugs or just too lazy to get a job, however, that is not always true.

In fact, a majority of sheltered homeless persons have jobs.  Finding work or currently working is a requirement for access to some shelters.  In emergency shelters, 17.5 % of homeless and 55 % of those in transitional housing are employed.  Some of our homeless are veterans too.  In Hawaii, 11.4 % of emergency sheltered homeless and 10.8 % in transitional housing are veterans.  Of the state’s unsheltered homeless adults, 14.5 % are single veterans and 3.8 % are veterans in families.  There are 398 homeless veterans on Oahu (The State Of Hawaii).  For people that have given their lives to save ours, it should be expected that they are well taken care of and not becoming homeless.  Each homeless person has a different story and reason for becoming homeless.

In America, one-third of homeless persons have untreated mental illnesses.  Within Hawaii’s homeless population, 60 % of them are reported as being mentally ill, which is up ten % from last year. (Hoffman).  On Oahu, 842 homeless persons are severely mentally ill and 53.6 % of the state’s unsheltered individuals are even disabled (The State Of Hawaii).  The most common forms of mental illnesses in homeless persons are depression, schizophrenia, posttraumatic stress disorder, and personality disorders.  Homeless adults have an average of eight to nine concurrent medical conditions as well, some such as dermatologic ailments, respiratory infections, foot problems, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).  STIs are very common in homeless girls and women due to their limited access to reproductive health services, prostitution, and survival sex – which is trading sex for food, drugs, or shelter.  Ten % of street youths (male and female) have reported participating in survival sex.  While homeless females usually do not have access to condoms or birth control, they have twice the national pregnancy rate (Donohoe).  They are also unable to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS or even treat it if it is caught.  On Oahu, 54 homeless persons admitted to having this disease (The State Of Hawaii).

Over half of Oahu’s homeless population is families.  During the past year, 2,360 homeless persons out of 4,556 reported being within a homeless family and 611 of them are households with children.  Of those households, 43 are unsheltered with a total of 90 children (The State Of Hawaii).  That does not include the many homeless children in shelters and transitional housing.  Children are the most widely affected by homelessness.  In a 2010 report, nine % of homeless children between the ages of six and 17 weren’t attending school.  It was found that 24 %of 12th graders and 47 %of kindergarteners that were homeless were not going to school.  In the 2009-2010 school year, the Department of Education (DOE) identified 2,973 public school children as homeless, a rise from the 1,739 in the previous school year.  While homelessness affects a child’s education, it affects their health as well.  The report discovered that one-fourth of children who experience homelessness had one or more physical, mental, behavioral, or developmental problems.  Most common were asthma, speech, vision or hearing issues, allergies and learning disabilities (Vorsino).

According to the same 2010 report, homeless children from birth to age five made up 56 percent of all minors that were served through shelter or outreach services.  There were a total of 13,886 people statewide and 9,781 people on Oahu alone who received outreach or shelter services (Vorsino).  In Hawaii’s 2013 point-in-time count, sheltered adults were surveyed on their ethnic background.  A Majority of the homeless population was of white ethnicity with 61.4 percent of emergency sheltered adults and 57.7 % of transitional housing adults being white.  It was found that only 16.7 %of emergency sheltered adults and 18.9 %of transitional housing adults identified themself as Hawaiian or Pacific Islander (The State Of Hawaii).  In 2007, there was a report specified on homeless Micronesians in Hawaii.  While Micronesians only represented one percent of Hawaii’s total population, they made up more than 20 % of the states’ total homeless shelter population.  In 2006, Micronesians exceeded 50 %of the residents in some shelters and they exceeded the number of Native Hawaiians for the first time in 2006 while the number of Hawaiians using shelters declined by 24 % (Hoover).  Micronesians fall under the Pacific Islander category along with Native Hawaiians and aren’t always calculated as their own ethnic background in reports.  However, in Hawaii, it is noticed how many homeless Micronesians are seen sleeping on the beaches, in cars, or other public places.

Hawaii is the ideal place for homeless due to the warm weather that remains the same all year long.  In the states where winter drops to freezing temperatures and sometimes below zero degrees Fahrenheit, homeless persons are at risk.  Shelters in the US will extend hours and add beds to allow more homeless shelter from the cold.  The homeless left unsheltered go to all-night places such as Wal-Mart or McDonalds to keep warm and outreach workers go out to help those remaining on the street (Mintz).  Winter weather in the states can cause problems for homeless from frostbite to even death; however, even the harsh summer heat is unbearable.  The heat can cause dehydration if homeless person does not keep hydrated or stay out of the heat.  As well as dehydration, they are at risk for severe sunburn.  In Salt Lake City, while the temperature was over 100 degrees, a homeless woman got badly sunburnt which became infected and required medical attention (Cortez).  Due to the heat and the cold in the states, homeless in the US find Hawaii to be the ideal place.  Some states go so far as buying the homeless one-way tickets to Hawaii.  About 30  % of Hawaii’s homeless are from out of state (Berr).  It was recorded that 20 %of the shelter residents and 17 %of the outreach clients have only been in Hawaii one year or less (Perez).  It was proposed that Hawaii should send the homeless back to where they came from – provided someone there is able to take them in.  A $300 one-way ticket is cheaper than the $35,000 it takes to provide a homeless person with social services (Berr).  However, that is not a solution other  than just a way to send the problem elsewhere.

One of the biggest issues for homeless has been the lack of health care.  A 55-year-old homeless California man named Paul learned that hope isn’t an insurance policy three years ago when his close friend died from cancer.  She died within four months of being diagnosed because she lacked insurance and couldn’t afford medical care.  Hope isn’t enough for a homeless person to live without becoming ill.  Paul has been homeless for nearly five years now and is trying every day to find work.  Many Americans receive health insurance through their jobs.  However, now for the first time in 12 years, Paul has insurance thanks to Obamacare.  Under Obamacare, Medicaid is expanded to cover anyone with an income at or below 133 percent of the poverty level – which is $15,282 for an individual or $31,322 for a family of four.  Although, only half of the states have accepted the expansion, Hawaii is among them (Keyes).  Other than Obamacare, in Hawaii, residents can receive health care through the state.  To help the homeless without insurance, workers or volunteers at shelters, transitional housings, or outreach service centers should ask who is uninsured and help them to apply.  Paul applied at Project Homeless Connect, a services fair for homeless people, and he said it was easy, taking him only five minutes to apply (Keyes).

While some are homeless due to the lack of health care, others simply just cannot afford the high rent and price tag of houses in Hawaii.  On Oahu, the median price of a single-family home is currently $625,000.  However, just ten years ago, it was nearly half of that at $335,000.  The rent costs are constantly increasing from an average of $1,000 per month in 1985, to $1,500 in 1995 and over $2,300 today.  Even for apartments, prices are soaring with rents as high as $1,500 for just one bedroom.  Hawaii is ranked as having the most expensive rentals in America (Scontras).  Some states are addressing the housing issue and Atlanta seems to have a very good handle on it.  According to Atlanta’s point-in-time count, more than 6,000 homeless people live in metro Atlanta.  Atlanta’s “Unsheltered No More” initiative is using the housing first approach in which states give shelter before other services.  Their goal is to find homes for 800 people this year and they already have more than 700 in homes.  Last year, the city partnered with 100,000 Homes Campaign, a national group working to find permanent homes for the most vulnerable homeless persons.  Their goal was to house 100 people in 100 days and managed to house 131 (Henry-White).

Honolulu is on its way to following the housing first strategy.  Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced a pilot program to provide housing for the homeless, above all else, within their own neighborhoods rather than forcing them to specific areas.  Homeless will be more willing to seek shelter within their own neighborhoods where they can remain close to their families, school or work.  The mayor plans to spend between $3 million to $4.5 million in federal funds to get at least 100 people off the streets over the next two years.  This will provide housing for approximately seven percent of the unsheltered homeless on Oahu (Hofschneider).

Homelessness is a world- wide problem that affects everyone.  Hawaii has one of the biggest homeless problems which it affects not only those residing here, but those visiting our state.  Homelessness is not just an issue for the homeless, but for everyone around them.  Homeless persons need help applying for health insurance to get them the care they need and most importantly, they need affordable housing.  The housing first strategy has helped reduce homelessness by 30 % from 2005 to 2007 (Lurie).  It is continuing to reduce homelessness in Hawaii, Atlanta and every other state that adapts to this strategy.  Housing first may be the solution we need implement to drastically reduce the homeless population in our state.

Work Cited

Berr, Johnathon. “Hawaii Proposes To Give Homeless A One-Way Ticket Out Of State.” Daily Finance. 29 Jul. 2010. Web. 1 Oct. 2013.

Blair, Chad. “Hawaii Homelessness.” Honolulu Civil Beat. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

Cortez, Marjorie. “Outreach Helps Homeless Beat The Heat.” Deseret News. 2 Jul. 2013. Web. 16 Oct. 2013.

Donohoe, Martin. “Homelessness in the United States: History, Epidemiology, Health Issues, Women, and Public Policy.” Medscape. 7 Jul. 2004. Web. 6 Oct. 2013.

Greenwood, Alice. Personal Interview. 28 Oct. 2013.

Henry-White, Jamie. “Atlanta Logs Dramatic Turnaround In Homelessness.” Honolulu Star Bulletin. 29 Sept. 2013. Web. 27 Oct. 2013.

Hoffman, Piper. “More Mentally Ill Becoming Homeless Because States Won’t Help.” Truthout. 6 May 2013. Web. 27 Oct. 2013.

Hofschneider, Anita. “Honolulu Mayor Reveals Plan To Reduce Homelessness.” AP Financial News (2013): Newspaper Source Plus. Web. 1 Oct. 2013.

Hover, Will, and Dan Nakaso. “Micronesians Fill Hawaii Shelters.”  Honolulu Advertiser. 8 Jul. 2007. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.

Keyes, Scott. “How Obamacare Helped Paul, A Homeless California Man, Finally Get Insurance.” Think Progress. 11 Oct. 2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.

Lurie, Stephen. “The Astonishing Decline Of Homelessness In America.” The Atlantic. 26 Aug. 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.

Mintz, Zoe. “Help For Homeless In Winter Weather Comes From Shelters, Outreach Workers (What You Can Do).” HuffPost Impact. 24 Jan. 2013. Web. 16 Oct. 2013.

Perez, Rob. “Children Represent One-Third In Shelters.” Honolulu Advertiser. 12 Nov. 2006. Web. 8 Oct. 2013.

Scontras, Lisa. “Average Rent in Hawaii Doubling Every 20 Years.” Star Advertiser. Web. 1 Oct 2013.

The State Of Hawaii. Dept. of Human Services. Homeless Programs Office. “Statewide Homeless Point-In-Time Count 2013 Methodology and Results.” State Of Hawaii. Dept. of Human Services, May 2013. Web. 16 Nov. 2013.

Vorsino, Mary. “Report Reveals Rise In Homelessness.” Star Advertiser. 17 Nov. 2010. Web. 8 Oct. 2013.

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