Honolulu mayor reveals plan to reduce homelessness


HONOLULU — Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced on Thursday a pilot project to address homelessness by providing housing for people within their own neighborhoods.

The mayor he wants to spend between $3 million and $4.5 million in federal funds to help get at least 100 people off the streets over the next two years.

Caldwell says the project adopts the Housing First strategy, which focuses on giving people shelter before other services. The Hawaii Legislature is already investing in a statewide Housing First initiative and voted last week to renew the funding. Other states that have invested in the strategy include Oregon and Kansas.

Caldwell says his plan is different from previous attempts by Honolulu to reduce homelessness because the proposal seeks to help people find housing within their own communities, rather than corralling them into one neighborhood.

City officials also say that previous plans to fight homelessness prioritized substance abuse treatment before housing.

The new initiative sees shelter as the first level of treatment.

Caldwell announced the proposal, along with state officials and city council members. He emphasized that the proposal is a pilot project that takes a systemic, holistic approach to homelessness instead of moving people from sidewalk to sidewalk.

He plans to start in Waikiki, Waianae and downtown. He didn’t have an estimate of how much the program might cost if it expands to other neighborhoods.

City and state officials say the plan will save Hawaii money. They estimate that helping each person will cost about $30,000 per person.

The Honolulu City Council will consider the proposal next.

Leaders of several of Hawaii’s social service organizations, including the Institute of Human Services and Hawaii Catholic Charities, stood behind the mayor in support of the plan.

“I think this one really is different,” said Darryl J. Vincent from the U.S. Veterans Initiative, an organization that helps homeless veterans.

Vincent said he has been working on homelessness in Hawaii for the past 20 years and that Caldwell’s plan shows a commitment to collaboration and to addressing homelessness the right way.

The initiative would provide housing for about 7 percent of Honolulu’s 1,465 unsheltered homeless residents. A large majority of them are mentally ill. Most are struggling with addiction.

There are an estimated 4,556 homeless people in Honolulu overall.