The number of homeless people on Hawaii’s neighbor islands has decreased over the past year, but many more are living on Oahu’s sidewalks, under bridges, and in parks and thickets, while far fewer are being sheltered on the island, according to an annual census.
The number of unsheltered homeless people on Oahu increased by 151 over the past year, and the number who are sheltered dropped by 132, the 2017 “Point-In-Time Count” found.
And there is still no word on when the new “state-of-the-art” Iwilei homeless shelter that Mayor Caldwell announced nearly one year ago will actually open.
But that’s not what Hawaii media reported when the numbers were released last week. Instead, news outlets simply provided superficial variations of the gleeful spiel that accompanied the count:
“In 2017 the State of Hawaii registered a 9% overall decrease in the numbers of homeless individuals, with Oahu registering a very small increase of less than one half of a percent!”
One of the TV stations chirped right along with that spoon-fed narrative, reporting that “For the first time in eight years, there are fewer homeless people on Hawaii’s streets and in its shelters,” and “Oahu was the only place to see an increase: The number of homeless counted increased by 19 people.”
The problem, of course, is that the number 19 reflects the total number of homeless people counted on Oahu, which includes those living in shelters and other forms of temporary housing.
The more pertinent numbers reflect those who remain unsheltered — camping in parks, sprawled across sidewalks, shitting in doorways, etc.
The number of unsheltered homeless people on Oahu increased from 2,173 to 2,324, according to Table 3 on page 15 of the brief report that accompanied the release of the numbers.
The TV people obviously never read that far or stopped to think a little. They never asked Caldwell what the hell’s going on with the fancy new shelter he announced during the heat of his re-election campaign and hasn’t mentioned since.
They even “reported” this ridiculous nonsense:
“Regardless of what the report shows, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and his Housing Director still say the City’s efforts are working.”
We’ve hoed this row before, of course. The count is released every year, but the media still just don’t get it.
The newspaper was just as bad this year. Actually, it was worse.
“Hawaii’s homeless population decreased 9 percent statewide, with Honolulu as the only county to see a slight increase of 19 people, according to data released today,” the paper warbled, right on script.
The paper noted that, “The Point In Time Count was announced at noon at the city’s newest housing project at Piikoi and Hassinger streets to house the homelessness following the “Housing First” model.”
In other words, the mayor staged an event at a new housing facility — it’s completion conveniently announced just a few weeks before the new count was scheduled to be released — to show that he’s trying to address the problem.
It’s too bad that nobody had enough sense to notice that the number of unsheltered homeless has increased by many, many more than the 19 who were highlighted, while the number of sheltered homeless people has decreased substantially.
Or to ask about the status of the Iwilei shelter. Or to even report how many people, if any, have actually moved into the housing where the event was staged.
It’s just incredible how lazy and gullible our media still are after Oahu has been sinking into this crisis for so many years.
The Civil Beat web site at least managed to notice the increase in Oahu’s unsheltered homeless — way down in the fourteenth paragraph of its report:
“And the number of Oahu’s unsheltered homeless people — those who are living outdoors as opposed to those staying at shelters — increased by nearly 7 percent to 2,324, keeping up multiple years of an upward trend.”
That trend shows that the number of unsheltered homeless on Oahu has increased by 859 since 2013, rising from 1,465 that year to 2,324 this year.
Civil Beat even took a stab at questioning why the number of unsheltered homeless people increased, and provided some specifics that were noticeably lacking elsewhere:
“Scott Morishige, the governor’s coordinator on homelessness, pointed out that much of the increase in Oahu’s unsheltered population came from regions that historically suffered from the lack of volunteers to conduct the federally-mandated survey.
The Upper Windward region, for instance, recorded a 122 percent increase — from 67 to 149 — in unsheltered population, while the Wahiawa to North Shore region saw its number jump by 74 percent — from 221 to 385.”
It’s also worth noting that the number of unsheltered veterans increased on Oahu from 189 last year to 235 this year. That’s disgraceful, especially after all the hoopla about making the housing of homeless veterans a top priority.
The newspaper did manage to follow up today with a story that questioned whether a reported decrease in unsheltered homeless people in East Honolulu was accurate.
The count found that the number dropped from 435 in 2016 to 309 this year in that region. That’s a decrease in 126 unsheltered homeless people. (For some reason, the newspaper reported the decrease as 129 people).
The paper explored a few theories, the most convincing of which was that new people involved in the counting simply don’t know where to go to find the hidden homeless.
The paper failed to note that the State just conducted a big enforcement action on the slopes of Diamond Head to remove long-entrenched camps of squatters and try to convince them to accept available services. That enforcement occurred months after the homeless count was conducted in January, so it can’t explain the drop in numbers, but it’s pretty indicative of the hidden homeless enclaves in some parts of the region. (The paper did interview people about the Hawaii Kai area, where homelessness is pretty negligible but there seem to be some strong opinions).
And, incredibly, in the same story that questions a drop in unsheltered homeless reported in one region, the paper repeated again that “Overall, the Point-in-Time Count showed just a 0.4 percent increase in homelessness on Oahu, or 19 more people — for a total homeless population of 4,959.”
But it never examined the more significant increase in the island-wide total of unsheltered homeless people, from 2,173 in 2016 to 2,324 this year; or the pronounced increase in the region that stretches from Wahiawa to the North Shore, from 221 to 385.
Is it any wonder that people are so confused and angry about this situation, and don’t believe the media or officials who claim that things are getting better?