Sunday, August 31, 2014


City proposes to take funds from Housing First for a Sand Island tent city

by Larry Geller

Vicki Viotti’s editorial in today’s Star-Advertiser (Gimme shelter, p. E1) is worth reading---and not not just because she quotes comments which I made in my 20140831 S-A editorialtestimony at Thursday’s Honolulu City Council hearing on the bills that would criminalize homelessness.

Read it because her editorial contains information on the city’s Housing First plans that I have not seen elsewhere in the paper. I hope the news-side editors are reading their own paper today, they could learn something.

[They could also learn that homeless people are human beings, not Lego blocks—see bottom of this article.]

I set aside my prepared testimony for a moment on Thursday in order to react to a remark by Honolulu City Managing Director Ember Shinn that Honolulu was “in the vanguard of Housing First programs” nationally. Not so. Honolulu has been negligent in allowing the problem of homelessness to grow while not implementing any evidence-based solutions such as Housing First. The program has been in existence since 1988 and reports of its great success can be found starting from about 2006 or so.

Not only that, Shinn doesn’t seem to understand what Housing First is. At least some members of the City Council may be in the same boat, since they wanted to prioritize families for Housing Fist. But on Thursday we learned that the City wants to sap money from its proposed program for a “temporary Housing First” program which is really a tent city.

A tent city is not “Housing First” of any kind, and aside from draining funds initially from the program they should really be paying attention to, there is the strong possibility that costs will run over whatever they initial estimate and drain yet more funds from Housing First. If they want to create a tent city, fine, but it would be better to find the money elsewhere.

Hawaii Public Radio’s Wayne Yoshioka posted some audio snips from the testimony (see: Honolulu City Council Committee Advances Sit & Lie Bills,, 8/28/2014). Snipping from that:

Wayne Yoshioka: … City Managing Director Ember Shinn requested passage of the measures introduced by the Mayor that applied to Waikiki only. But, Shin said, prior to implementation, the Administration would set up tents at Sand Island as a temporary Housing First project.

Ember Shin: It is not, repeat not, a safe zone. It is a temporary Housing First program. And that will include services 24 hours, security services, transportation, hygiene centers, and storage areas, areas for families and pets as well as individual men and women.

Wayne Yoshioka: The State owns the Sand Island property and once an agreement is reached, the City hopes to erect the tents in three months using some of the the $3 million appropriated from Housing First.

The City can set up its tent city if it wants to, but the description above bears no relationship to Housing First.  “Temporary” is a contradiction. Ms. Shinn could usefully learn a little more about the program.

Housing First, when supported by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, does not only provide housing. The model, used by nonprofit agencies throughout America, also provides wraparound case management services to the tenants. This case management provides stability for homeless individuals, which increases their success. It allows for accountability and promotes self-sufficiency. The housing provided through government supported Housing First programs is permanent and "affordable," meaning that tenants pay 30% of their income towards rent.

[wikipedia]  (emphasis added)

Indeed, I think there should be some exploration about whether the city does understand the program. Although Mayor Caldwell distributed this packet at a press conference that includes articles demonstrating that Housing First has proven to be a great saving to taxpayers, his first plan turned out to be unfunded. The Mayor was betting on using funds from a housing sale, but when that gamble fell through, taxpayers were still on the hook for his raids and other expenses as a result of his failed funding scheme.

Make no mistake, the expenses continue to mount while the city fiddles with “temporary” Housing First instead of the real thing.

Are City and State coordinating their Housing First programs?

The editorial is rich with information that could have been in a comprehensive news story. For example, from the article we learn that the city has advertised an RFP for Housing First services including placing the candidates and providing services to them. A check of public notices revealed that the city’s notice had been posted only four days earlier. From the editorial:

The city has already taken the next step: advertising the request for proposals for a contract to run the program of placing the residents and providing the services. The contractor could turn out to be a single agency or possibly a partnership of multiple agencies or providers, [the city's director of the Department of Community Services Pam] Witty-Oakland said.

"We've encouraged all of them, collectively, to put together a proposal and then divide it up geographically," she said. "Because preferably we want one contract so that there is one entity accountable for the breadth of services, housing all the way through to case management and mental health."

The state Department of Health has previously provided the type of mental health support services that are typically used in Housing First programs, not the city. DOH provides services typically by contracting with experienced agencies. Are both the city and the state going to compete to provide housing and services?

It’s a holiday weekend so I can’t get hold of a copy of the RFP, but I’ll try to do that on Tuesday.

But meanwhile, the state has not only issued an RFP, but has awarded a contract. See Contract Number  DHS-15-HPO-2076 on the state Procurement Office Website. The awardee is the United States Veterans Initiative.

So while there is still no program in operation, both the city and state may soon have something going.

Without reviewing both contract documents, I can’t tell who is planning to do what and if there is coordination. Remember, we taxpayers pay for it ALL.

For more details, find a copy of today’s paper and look for the Insight section inside. There’s a sidebar that describes the selection process.

Note that by deliberately selecting the most vulnerable only, those that might more easily benefit from Housing First may be left out, and the success rate down the line may be smaller. It’s a dilemma.

But what’s best to do?

While these programs struggle to get started, if the City Council passes its criminalization bills and if the laws are enforced, not only will more of those most vulnerable be hurt, but we taxpayers will incur additional costs associated with the new laws.

At this point, though not reported in the newspaper or TV coverage, the City Council has heard the testimony and knows this.

Lego blocks? Star-Advertiser de-humanizes homelessness

Today’s editorial was a welcome break from the Star-Advertiser’s usual news coverage and selection of letters-to-the-editor that treat Honolulu’s homeless population as a nuisance.

I was disappointed in the Friday article in the Star-Advertiser on the City Council hearings on the bills that would criminalize homelessness in Honolulu. That they used Lego blocks to represent actual people seemed very wrong. This issue is not something to be toyed with.

There were some tweets long the same line of thought—see the images below. But that’s not all.

The report gave no sense that testimony was overwhelmingly against the bills, including two individuals, one of them an attorney, who noted that the laws would be unconstitutional as applied and would be challenged in court. The attorney suggested that legal fees were pretty high and of course taxpayers would foot the bill.

Individuals who are currently homeless testified that the city has been confiscating their medicine, personal belongings and ID and destroying them. Others gave succinct testimony why the IHS shelters were problematic for them.

Hawaii Public Radio’s report captured how committee chair Ikaika Anderson seemingly ignored the four hours of testimony and simply kept to the theme that the sidewalks are not for lying down or sleeping, etc. His statement seemed to ignore the humanitarian, legal and economic issues entirely. The article also did not cover committee member Breen Harimonto’s extensive statement in opposition.

Some tweeters thought the front-page Lego block illustration was a mistake:

Lego tweet 2

Lego tweet 1

Here’s a snip of the top of the front page itself:

Lego blocks


Actually I think you got it right in paragraph five referring to it as "Housing Fist."

(Sigh) I had my eyeglasses adjusted yesterday at Costco, so that's not the problem...

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