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O'ahu's Unsheltered Homeless Count Adjusts to Covid

noe tanigawa
Sunset at Hale Mauliola homeless shelter on Sand Island. The first quarters erected here were refurbished shipping containers.

Worsening economic conditions have state officials warning about an increase in homelessness across the state. This year, O'ahu's Point in Time count of homeless individuals will not include those who are unsheltered, or on the street.  More than one hundred volunteers who trek annually from tent to tent, will not be doing that this year.

Credit John Kaulupali
The City's Punawai Rest Stop on Kuwili Street provides first aid, showers, a place to store belongings, and even computers to use.

Oahu's annual Point in Time homeless count is being modified in light of Covid-19 considerations. Unsheltered homeless will not be counted, according to Laura E. Thielen,  Executive Director of Partners in Care, or PIC, which conducts the count. 

"We use a lot of volunteers, and the recognition that we lost a frontline service worker to Covid. We want to respect the fear of Covid, as well as, it would be awful if we did the unsheltered count and we might be the case of a cluster of Covid cases."


Thielen says Partners in Care will do a detailed dive into their island-wide shelter database to determine how many homless are there as a result of the pandemic. On the street, she says, people from out of state did not add to the homeless population while strict travel bans were in place, and the eviction moratorium is keeping mpeople in their homes.


"We're acting like in the probably three months after the eviction moratorium, we may see a jump in numbers. People are relying on family to support right now, but once that eviction moratorium is lifted...Landlords are suffering alongside the rest of the community with Covid." 


Hawai'i's eviction moratorium has been extended through February 14, 2021. 

Thielen acknowledges State funding will likely be hard to come by this year, but federal funds are expected soon.


"We are looking at a large impact of CARES money coming into the state over the next month or so," says Thielen.

O'ahu CARES money goes though the City and County, while Neighbor Islands will be served through the State entity.


State Homeless Coordinator Scott Morishige says he expects homelessness caused by the pandemic to outstrip the 37% increase that resulted from the '08 recession. The increase peaked eight years later, and involved about 2100 additional homeless individuals. 

Thielen says progress on homeless and housing issues can continue this legislative session despite the lack of funds.


"We have a unique opportunity to really look at the policy side of things that doesn't necessarily require funding. And I think the expansion of the state hospital system and making sure those mental health services are provided on a regular basis with folks, that is definitely high on our priority list."


According to Thielen, there are bright spots. Telehealth is working for some situations, and for the 79 known homeless veterans on Oahu, Partners in Care just kicked off a program to get them all into permanent housing by the end of the year.


Noe Tanigawa covers art, culture and ideas for Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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