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Annual survey finds a 2% increase in homelessness on Oʻahu

FILE - In this photo, a man walks toward his makeshift tent at a homeless encampment near the ocean in Waiʻanae, Hawaiʻi. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Jae C. Hong/AP
FILE - In this photo, a man walks toward his makeshift tent at a homeless encampment near the ocean in Waiʻanae, Hawaiʻi. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The number of people experiencing homelessness on Oʻahu increased slightly by 2% over the past year, according to the 2023 Point in Time count released on Thursday.

Last year's report found 3,951 people were experiencing homelessness in both sheltered and unsheltered settings. That increased by 77 to 4,028 in 2023.

Partners In Care conducted the one-day survey on Jan. 23 with a coalition of organizations dedicated to caring for homeless people. The data collected helps inform nonprofits and government officials about mitigation and prevention in the future.

"It does not count every single person who is experiencing homelessness. It's our best efforts to do that," said Laura Thielen, the executive director of Partners In Care.

"We also want to balance that with the reality of what happens within the service system over the course of the year. So when you're seeing there's 13,000 people who have gotten services over the course of the year, that kind of balances out and says okay, there's 4,000 on this one day, but at any given time, there could be 5,000, 6,000, 10,000," she said.

Partners In Care divides Oʻahu into seven regions for the survey. Waiʻanae had the biggest increase with 27% of the island's unsheltered population compared to 18% last year, according to the report.

Partners In Care
A screenshot of Oʻahu's seven regions from the 2023 Point in Time count.

Thielen said there was a significant decrease in Waikīkī and downtown Honolulu, possibly caused by city programs like Safe and Sound Waikiki, which seeks to convict serial offenders and help those with bigger problems, like substance abuse and chronic homelessness.

"Anecdotally, through our heat map, we can see that those specific areas within the regions had a decrease, but right outside of those neighborhoods, there was a slight increase," she said. "What we really want to accomplish is ending homelessness for folks, not just moving them out of areas and creating more problems for the neighboring areas."

Thielen said one issue is a downward trend in available beds at emergency and transitional shelters, partly due to COVID restrictions.

"But it's also due to some programs going offline and some programs coming on, but not enough. So we have seen a slow decrease over the last three years of shelter availability," Thielen told HPR.

But one bright spot has been the decrease in homeless veterans over the last several years. Veteran homelessness decreased by 52% since 2015, according to the report.

Click here to read the full report or use the box below.

This interview aired on The Conversation on May 11, 2023. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1. This story was adapted for the web by Sophia McCullough.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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