Report: Native Hawaiians Overrepresented Among Unsheltered

Nov 18, 2020

A report released in July shows nearly half of O'ahu's homeless who are reached by social service providers are successfully rehoused. The study shows continuous churn on the streets of Honolulu, but one segment of the population is consistently overrepresented. 

The report, Unsheltered in Honolulu, is based on four years of homeless data provided by the Point in Time counts between 2017 and 2020.

Ten thousand individuals were matched with their service history in the state system. Lead author Anna Pruitt says what jumps out is the disparity among Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. They are  23% of the general population, but 54% of the unsheltered in Honolulu county.

"That's a huge disparity and when you look at just Native Hawaiians, you see a disparity there as well. Forty one percent of unsheltered are Native Hawaiian, compared to about 19% of Honolulu county," said Pruitt. 

The co-author of Unsheltered in Honolulu, Jack Barile, noted about a third of Oahu's homeless were found to have mental disabilities, physical disabilities, a drug addiction, or combinations of the three.  Barile says those conditions do not necessarily cause their lack of shelter.

"I think sometimes people see this percentages and numbers and say, 'Oh, that's the reason for homelessness.' And probably the majority of people it goes the opposite direction," Barile said.

"Someone can be doing quite well, they lose their house and end up on the street. Now they experience violence, now they start using illicit substances, now they start to develop mental health issues. Because living on the streets is tough."  

Ultimately, the study found, services are working for the 50% of homeless who use them. The problem is, what they call the leaky faucet, the constant flow of new homeless onto the street. Pruitt says efforts to keep people in their homes are critical going into 2021.

November is National Homeless Awareness Month, and a free, all virtual, statewide Homeless Awareness Conference is set for this week, November 18-19. All are invited to register at Honolulu.gov/housing.