Friday, September 11, 2015


Hawaii Public Radio kicks off week-long conversation on homelessness

by Larry Geller

Hawaii Public Radio is devoting significant broadcast time this coming week to creating a dialogue on housing and homelessness that is very badly needed in Hawaii. Tune in (and if you are the Mayor or a citycouncilperson, listen up): among the guests starting Monday is the leading national expert on Housing First.

Pitching the spin vs. the reality of Housing First

At a city council meeting in 2014, then City Managing Director Ember Shinn testified that Honolulu is  in the ‘vanguard’ of Housing First. Actually, we have yet to get started, and the count of people living on the streets increases yearly even as that count decreases nationally. Success elsewhere follows adoption of the Housing First model pioneered by Dr. Sam Tsemberis.

Passing cruel ordinances that do nothing but cause harm to people cannot solve our growing crisis.

I'm sure local officials will try to counter that locking up poor, homeless people isn't their goal. Oddly, they seem pleased with themselves because they are providing a tent city with some services for the homeless and billing their "plan" as Housing First and even "supportive housing."

The organization I represent has a national reputation creating what is actually supportive housing. Supplying temporary tents on an island — which conjures up offensive scenes of World War II internment camps — fits absolutely no one's professional definitions of Housing First or supportive housing. It, however, does give a whole new meaning to pitching your spin.—op-ed by Deborah De Santis, Star-Advertiser, 9/11/2014

While Honolulu spends time and money finding and funding temporary shelter for its growing population of homeless, other cities have implemented Housing First and drastically reduced the number of people living on the streets.

Why is Honolulu missing the mark? Why won’t the Star-Advertiser even mention “Housing First” or recognize its success elsewhere? These are good questions.

For answers to what we should be doing, tune in to Hawaii Public Radio’s coverage of the issues starting on Monday at 8 a.m. on The Conversation (HPR-2) and continuing through the week.

In particular, to learn about Housing First, be sure to listen at 8:30 a.m. right after the news for Beth-Ann Kozlovich’s interview with psychologist Dr. Sam Tsemberis, founder of Pathways to Housing. It’s important to understand what Housing First is and how it achieves success in order to understand what Honolulu (and Hawaii) must do to turn around our shameful numbers.

Dr. Tsemberis spoke at a meeting of the Hawaii Interagency Council on Homelessness about two years ago at the invitation of Colin Kippen. His guidance seems to have been ignored. Monday is our chance to re-engage with the evidence-based methodology that should work as well for Hawaii as it has elsewhere. Be sure to tune in.

See these two Washington Post stories:

The surprisingly simple way Utah solved chronic homelessness and saved millions (4/17/2015)

Meet the outsider who accidentally solved chronic homelessness (5/6/2015)

From the HPR news release:

[Dr. Tsemberis’] simple solution: give homes to the homeless and prioritize those with mental or physical disabilities who have been homeless for longer than a year; his model is known as “housing first.” Post reporter Terrence McCoy wrote, “Late last month, Utah, the latest laboratory for Tsemberis’s models, reported it has nearly eradicated chronic homelessness. Phoenix, an earlier test case, eliminated chronic homelessness among veterans. Then New Orleans housed every homeless veteran.”

Tune in Monday. I’ll post more during the week.


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