Ranks of Homeless Veterans Starting to Thin

Honolulu Star-Advertiser, September 26

By Dan Nakaso

The number of homeless military veterans on Oahu fell 44 percent between January and August, while the number of veterans becoming homeless each month also shows an encouraging decline.

Oahu is now among five metropolitan areas around the country that could become the first to meet a new standard of reducing chronic homelessness among veterans, according to Nate French, an improvement adviser for New York-based nonprofit group Community Solutions, which is helping county, state, federal and nonprofit representatives pro bono to reduce island homelessness.

At a meeting at the state Capitol on Wednesday that included officials tackling homeless issues for Gov. David Ige and Mayor Kirk Caldwell, French told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that progress is being made. He attributed the success in part to an unusual level of buy-in from the highest levels of local government and a network of social service agencies that are working together from a uniform list of every known homeless veteran on Oahu.

“You have such deep engagement from the state and city and VA (the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs),” French said. “We don’t see that in every community. You have all the right people at the table. … And it’s not just token leadership.”

Social service outreach workers meet every couple of weeks to review the status of all of the 183 known military veterans who were homeless on Oahu as of August, said Jun Yang, executive director of the city’s office of housing.

The number of homeless veterans on the island has fallen 44 percent since January, when 329 homeless veterans were on the so-called “by-name list” of homeless veterans who are known to social service outreach workers.

In June, the pipeline of newly homeless military veterans was being refilled at a rate of 24 newly homeless vets each month. But that number has since dipped to a statistical average of 21.5 newly homeless veterans each month.
44% Decline in the number of military veterans on Oahu who were homeless from January to August.

329 Number of homeless veterans on Oahu who were known “by name” to social service outreach workers in January.

183 Number of known homeless military veterans on Oahu as of August.

24 Average number of veterans per month who were becoming homeless on Oahu as of June.

21.5 Current monthly average of newly homeless veterans on Oahu.

26.5 Average number of homeless veterans who are placed into housing each month on Oahu.

10% Percentage of people who have been homeless less than a year on Oahu who are from the mainland or another country.

Source: Offices of Gov. David Ige, Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Community Solutions

At the same time, the combined efforts to house veterans has resulted in a statistical average of 26.5 veterans finding housing on Oahu each month, French said.

While it’s unlikely that any metropolitan community will ever eliminate homelessness for every military veteran, officials on Oahu are working to reach “functional zero.”

To attain functional zero, the number of homeless veterans on the “by-name list” has to fall below the number of veterans getting housed each month, French said.

Honolulu is “among five communities that I feel are within striking distance (of reaching functional zero) maybe within the next year,” he said.

The others are Chicago; Riverside County, Calif.; Tucson, Ariz.; and Jacksonville, Fla., French said.

Between January 2015 and June, the combined efforts on Oahu resulted in finding housing for 747 veterans.

At the personal urging of first lady Michelle Obama, Caldwell accepted her “Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.” But Honolulu fell shy of reaching “functional zero” at the end of 2015.

Both state and city officials have accepted a challenge from Community Solutions — “Zero: 2016” — to reach functional zero for Oahu’s chronically homeless veterans.

At the same time, more information is needed to figure out why the number of newly homeless veterans has taken a dip on Oahu, French said.

“That’s the next question people are asking,” he said.

Based on data collected from social service outreach workers, it’s clear that many of the newly homeless veterans are from the islands, Yang said.

“They’re not all coming from the mainland,” he said.

Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator, said that only about 10 percent of people on Oahu who have been homeless less than a year are from the mainland or another country, including military veterans.

“It’s really a small population,” Morishige said.

Yang added, “These are our families, our local families, who served in the military and served our nation. … For a long time, we didn’t respond in the appropriate way. Our system was not built out to do it. Now we’ve built out a system that is so much more improved than before.”

In October, Yang said, another “landlord summit” is being planned on Oahu to encourage fair-market landlords to take a chance on renting their units to homeless people, especially veterans.

“We have landlords that are still willing,” Yang said. “We appreciate what they’ve done and we’re going to ask them to do more.”

Marc Gannon, chairman of the board of directors of Partners in Care, said the efforts to reduce homelessness for military veterans on Oahu are now being applied across the board.

“Our work in this area with veterans was never intended to be isolated,” Gannon said. “It was intended to be a way of developing our system … and apply that learning to other targeted (homeless) subpopulations.”