Community

The Homeless Utilization Report
Image: Mike Keany

Identifying the faceless

The Homeless Utilization Report / For decades, local and national non-profits and government agencies have worked together to address Hawai’i’s homelessness crisis. As awareness of the problem has increased, more shelters have opened, donations have been collected, outreach programs have expanded, but it’s often unclear how well such initiatives are working, due largely to gaps in demographic information about homeless people that would better highlight their needs.

“People have very limited ideas based on the homeless they have been in touch with,” said Sarah Yuan, one of the lead authors of a University of Hawai’i study, released last month, on how homeless people utilize various services throughout the state. “Putting together data on the populations that these agencies serve gives us a better understanding of who these people actually are.”

The Homeless Utilization Report delivered some results that came as a surprise even to researchers, including those who have worked with the homeless for decades.

“The homeless were sort of this faceless group who no one knew much about but now we can actually begin to see,” she said. “It was surprising to us how many children there were–roughly one third of the homeless population–so the question really became, how well are these children being served?”

Yuan said the report illuminates the needs for preventative action that serves to enable younger generations to prepare for life as adults, like the expansion of parenting education seminars and health care services.

“These kids aren’t being properly screened or treated,” she said. “They may not be hearing well or they may have cavities bothering them and all these things affect performance in school. Homeless children are faring behind other kids, and if we want to even the playing field, we have to start really young and get them on track to graduate so they won’t fail out.”

Researchers looked specifically at the numbers of people accessing homelessness services, a method that undoubtedly excludes some portions of the homeless population but also highlights others. For example, 14 percent of those who use Hawai’i’s homeless shelters are veterans, more than half are lifetime residents of the Islands and more than a quarter reported being college educated.

“There are a lot of people who are educated, college and even graduate school, who are homeless,” said Yuan. “There are people who have jobs who are homeless. Some of these folks are working but don’t make enough to afford housing. It is a very difficult time and it won’t get better until we do more for them.”

For more information on a variety of agencies and programs that provide health, housing and human services, visit websites for the Hawai’i Public Housing Authority ([hpha.hawaii.gov]) and the Department of Human Services ([hawaii.gov]).