Maui’s Homeless: What's Working

Sep 18, 2018

Some kind of Maui State of Mind does appear to exist, and there are indications that attitude could be helping to deal with the Valley Isle's housing crisis.
Credit creative commons

The latest word is, homeless numbers on Maui may be going down after recent storms, as several families and individuals have decided to seek permanent housing.  At last count, there were about 900 people homeless on the Valley Isle.  HPR’s series about housing on Maui continues with a look at what is working to shelter the homeless, and what is ahead to create housing they can afford.  HPR’s Noe Tanigawa reports.

Sunset near Kihei.
Credit creative commons

Coming up Wednesday, 9-19-18, on the Conversation, Noe talks with Maui’s new Housing Director about affordable housing and neighborhood living.   Find other episodes in this series below.

Homeless Coordinator David Nakama says, Maui residents may see more homeless these days in the Central Maui area, but they’re a special group, with a street tribe mentality

Nakama:  I’m talking about maybe 20 people, 25 people, not a huge group, but they’re very visible in Kahului.   

The vast majority, 80% of Maui’s homeless, are busy everyday working jobs and going to school like everybody else, but the thing is, Nakama says, studies show the most visible 10% of homeless are using 50% of available resources. 

Nakama:  The theory in this, is the Housing First approach where if you get those people into housing, with support services, that will free up resources for the general population of homeless.  This is really a big money saver for the taxpayer because just managing homelessness is way more costly than ending it and the only way to end homelessness is to get them into housing.

The way Housing First works is, all service providers need to buy in 100%, which often means changing the nature and duration of services provided.  Then, through the Coordinated Entry program, they are assigned clients according to need, and must house them  in a set amount of time.  Often, these days, that time has been 30-90 days, and we’re talking now about the most chronic cases getting taken care of first.

Getting those long time people off the street is actually happening now, Nakama says, partly because of combined social service outreach and police/county clean ups, called "compassionate responses."     

Thelma Akita-Kealoha is the Maui Community Office Director of Catholic Charities Hawai‘i.

Akita-Kealoha:  They have actually convinced people to come in for services.  After they go through so many of those, they start really to consider what their options are, and what would be the best.

Akita-Kealoha:  Some have gone to families, and some have come in for services, and some have been housed.  We see that kind of as a positive progression of getting people into housing.

On O‘ahu, Nakama says, population alone makes the problem exponentially larger.  He supports Hawai‘i’s State Homeless Coordinator, Scott Morishige and the Homeless Programs office which has greatly assisted Maui.

Nakama:  We’re all in this together and I’m hoping that all their (Oahu's) homeless provider agencies can jump onboard with the Housing First approach and do the 100% buy in that Maui has.  That, I think is the key.  If they can do that, then they’re on the road to solving this.

There is a snag.

Nakama:  Where we’re stuck, is affordable rentals.

"How often have we talked about affordable housing and for how many years?"  Will Spence is the former Planning Director, now Housing Director of Maui County.

Spence:  There’s a big shift going on.  I’m looking forward to seeing more neighborhoods, than simply housing.

With Maui’s 2012 Island Plan in place, Spence says Maui could develop at least partially affordable neighborhoods beautifully. 

We'll take a look at that, next.