HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Four years ago, Gov. David Ige made a big pledge: His administration would functionally end homelessness in Hawaii by 2020. Anyone who ended up on the street, he said, would be helped and housed within a few weeks.
Since then, the state has spent at least $44 million trying to get a handle on the crisis.
While some progress has been made, many sidewalks, parks and beaches remain crowded with tents.
And the governor himself is acknowledging that the state fallen short.
“I do think in hindsight maybe it was too aggressive, too aspirational,” Ige said, in an interview with Hawaii News Now. “But it did drive us. It made us realize in order to be successful we need to have all hands on deck.”
There were three main objectives to the governor’s plan:
- Eliminate encampments on state land;
- Get everyone off the street and into housing;
- And build 10,000 new homes, with a focus on affordable units.
Likely, just one of those goals ― adding 10,000 new units ― will be met.
And meanwhile, many believe that the homeless crisis has only intensified in recent years.
“I think it’s worse,” said resident Lanceton Akana. “There’s more homeless under the bridges. By the beaches.”
Resident Quennie Rozario said, “It’s still the same.”
Added resident Amy Vaneperen: “It’s so sad to see. It’s just not acceptable.”
Despite falling far short of its goal, the Ige administration says it has made positive progress.
The governor says 8,700 new homes have been built, and about 5,000 of those are affordable.
“We have more than 3,000 units currently under construction so we believe we will make that goal of 10,000 new homes (by the end of the year),” Ige said.
Also, homelessness statewide is down.
On average, 616 people are going from the street into permanent housing every month, totaling nearly 7,400 a year, Ige said. That’s almost double the placements compared to 2016.
Homeless advocates, meanwhile, say the reason there are still so many living on the streets is because thousands of people continue to fall into homelessness every year.
And no one’s figured out how to keep those people in their homes.
The other big problem is drugs.
“I personally feel like methamphetamine has utterly destroyed innumerable families and has caused a lot of homelessness,” said Connie Mitchell, the head of the state’s largest homeless service provider.
She said more than 90% of the men coming into the shelter have substance abuse issues. And getting them help is almost impossible, especially on the Neighbor Islands.
“When we try to say here’s a person who wants treatment right now, it’s often not available for that person," Mitchell said, adding that without help the addicted become more desperate.
“I think because of that the streets are getting less safe,” Mitchell said.
She says to combat what’s happening, substance abuse treatment needs to be more accessible and so does help for the mentally ill.
The governor acknowledged the need.
“We’re looking at state hospital facilities that may have empty beds,” said Ige. “As well as long term care facilities to provide treatment beds.”
The state Department of Health also recently launched something called the CARES Program. It’s a hotline that connects people to drug treatment programs.
The phone number for Oahu is 832-3100. The neighbor islands number is 1 (800) 753-6879