Thursday, August 13, 2015


What Rep. Sylvia Luke, Sen. Brian Schatz, the City Council and the Mayor don’t know about solving Honolulu’s homelessness crisis

by Larry Geller

First, two quotes from the news, and then the answer:

"A lot of that population has mental issues and other type of issues," said Rep. Sylvia Luke, (D) Makiki, Punchbowl, Nuuanu. "Placing them in a home is not going to be the right solution."

[Hawaii News Now: Legislators say "housing first" not the only solution (Hawaii News Now, 8/6/2015)]


“Hawaii is different,” Schatz said. “We haven’t seen the same kind of statistical progress they’ve been able to make in other cities. … Whatever has worked elsewhere has not worked here.”

[Star-Advertiser, Task force addresses Kakaako campsite, 8/22/2015]

It seems as though the Governor’s Leadership Team is trapped  in a time warp somewhere around 1992. If we have to wait for them to catch up, there will be increasing numbers of people looking for affordable housing and even more left out on the streets in Hawaii.

Let me snip from the Pathways to Housing website for an explanation of how Housing First has worked so well in so many other places:

Housing First Model

Housing First is simple: provide housing first, and then combine that housing with supportive treatment services in mental and physical health, substance abuse, education, and employment.

The Housing First Philosophy

Dr. Sam Tsemberis founded Pathways to Housing in 1992, with the creation of the Housing First model to address homelessness among people with psychiatric disabilities and addiction disorders.

Pathways’ Housing First is simple: provide housing first, and then combine that housing with supportive treatment services in the areas of mental and physical health, substance abuse, education, and employment. Housing is provided in apartments scattered throughout a community. This "scattered site" model fosters a sense of home and self-determination, and it helps speed the reintegration of Pathways clients into the community.

Housing First Outcomes

The Pathways model has been remarkably successful in ending chronic homelessness. Since its founding, housing retention rates have remained at 85 – 90 percent even among individuals who have not succeeded in other programs. Not only is Housing First effective at keeping people housed and working toward recovery, it has also proven to be incredibly cost-effective. Providing homes and support services to the chronically homeless costs less than the expensive cycling through of emergency rooms, shelters, jails, and psychiatric hospitals.

A recent success story is reported for Utah, as one example:

SALT LAKE CITY — Chronic homelessness in Utah has dropped 91 percent in the past decade under Utah's "Housing First" initiative, state officials announced Tuesday.

Utah's program places chronically homeless people in housing and supports them with services that help address the root causes of their homelessness such as physical and mental illness, substance abuse and addiction, low educational attainment, criminal records, or poor work histories.

[Deseret News, Chronic homelessness in Utah down 91 percent under decade-long 'Housing First' initiative, 4/28/2015]

It has worked elsewhere for many years. Wikipedia reports that Housing First is being applied in New Orleans, Louisiana; Plattsburgh, New York; Anchorage, Alaska; Minneapolis, Minnesota; New York City; District of Columbia; Denver, Colorado; San Francisco, California; Atlanta, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; Quincy, Massachusetts; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Salt Lake City, Utah; Seattle, Washington; Los Angeles and Cleveland, Ohio.

Honolulu is still not on the list.

Could part of the responsibility fall on the newspaper, which has concentrated its news and editorial coverage almost exclusively on a theme of cleaning homeless campers off the streets (into where, it does not say)?

I don’t need to explain much more. If the Gov’s team wants to learn why Hawaii should try Housing First, they can start with Google and actually learn a lot.



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